Rot 13

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Rot 13 is a cipher that is never used for real security. It simply replaces every letter with the letter that comes 13 positions later in the alphabet, so each letter in the upper row here is replaced with the letter below it:

input    abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
output   nopqrstuvwxyzabcdefghijklm

The alphabet on the lower line is rotated by 13 places.

A common use of rot 13 is to hide "spoilers" in Usenet news postings or email. If a post gives away something - the ending of a movie or the punchline of a joke - it is said to contain a spoiler. Some readers might wish not to read it, because it would spoil their enjoyment of the film or joke. On the other hand, the writer may consider mentioning it essential to the discussion. The solution is to rot-13 encrypt that part of the message and let readers decide whether to decrypt and read it.

Mathematically, the operation is modulo 26. The decryption uses exactly the same code. Rot 13 is its own inverse, since modulo 26.

Rot 13 is one example of a Caesar cipher, a type of cipher once used by Julius Caesar. A Caesar cipher may rotate the alphabet by any amount. Caesar himself used three, so a was replaced by d, b by e and so on. Rot 13 uses 13.

Rot 13 should never be used for real security, since breaking it is trivial. However, in at least one case it has been used that way. Adobe Corporation produced a software development kit for their e-book reader that included rot 13 as an example; the client companies were expected to replace this with more serious encryption. However, according to Dmitry Sklyarov's analysis[1], one vendor actually shipped a product with rot 13 encryption.

References

  1. Dmitry Sklyarov (July 2001), eBooks security - theory and practice