Auguste Kerckhoffs

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Auguste Kerckhoffs

Jean Guillaume Auguste Victor François Hubert Kerckhoffs von Nieuwenhof (born January 19, 1835 in Nuth (now the Netherlands ), † 1903 in Paris , France ) was a Dutch linguist and cryptologist . He shortened his name to Auguste Kerckhoffs when he began his studies at the Université de Liège (Liège), from which he graduated with docteur ès lettres . He stayed for some time in France and the Netherlands, where he was a teacher of German at HEC Paris and the Ecole Arago worked.

Kerckhoffs as a cryptologist

His handwriting La Cryptographie militaire , he finally, after two years of work in 1883 published, considered a milestone in cryptography of the 19th century , the then with confidential communications via telegraph lines busy.

The work contains Kerckhoffs' principle for "strategic cryptology", according to the understanding of the time, a military science. Further rules and requirements for confidential communication are established:

  • An encrypted message can not be efficiently decrypted without a key ;
  • the communication partners must not suffer any damage if the encryption system becomes known;
  • the key must be easy to remember and interchangeable;
  • the cryptograms must be transferrable, which was called "telegraphable" at the time;
  • the encryption machine and the documents must be transportable;
  • the system must be easy to use (without expert help);
  • the encryption system should be thoroughly examined by experts.

These findings are unlikely to have been known to the first inventors of cipher machines: Edward Hugh Hebern (1869–1952), Arthur Scherbius (1878–1929), Hugo Alexander Koch (1870–1928) - even more likely as a Dutchman - and Arvid Damm ( 1869-1927).

If one interprets the problems of today with care, these rules still apply. The easy-to-remember key today would be more of a password or PIN . Of course, portability is trivial for software solutions. When it comes to hardware (e.g. implementation on chip cards ), it is hardly a challenge nowadays if everyone involved uses similar components (e.g. the same chips).

Kerckhoffs as an interlinguist

From 1885 Kerckhoffs began to be interested in the world auxiliary language Volapük and was also Secrétaire général de l'Association française pour la propagation du volapük for several years . He propagated this in Spain and Scandinavia and published a textbook. Differences about a simplification of the Volapük led to a break with its creator, the pastor Johann Martin Schleyer , who wanted to have his rights to the language preserved. This split the Volapük movement.


  • Auguste Kerckhoffs: La cryptographie militaire. Journal des sciences militaires, Vol. 9, pp. 5-38, Jan. 1883 and pp. 161-191, Feb. 1883. PDF; 0.5 MB
  • La Cryptographie militaire, ou Des cryptos usités en temps de guerre. Avec un nouveau procédé de déchiffrement applicable aux systèmes à double clef . New edition. Publisher: Nabu Press (February 23, 2010) ISBN 978-1145264670
  • International Commercial Language: Abridged Grammar of Volapük . New edition. Publisher: BiblioBazaar (July 17, 2009) ISBN 978-1113311931
  • Examen critique de la Langue Musicale Universelle de Sudre