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Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms, and Source Code in C 2nd Edition
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Cryptographic techniques have applications far beyond the obvious uses of encoding and decoding information. For Internet developers who need to know about capabilities, such as digital signatures, that depend on cryptographic techniques, there's no better overview than Applied Cryptography, the definitive book on the subject. Bruce Schneier covers general classes of cryptographic protocols and then specific techniques, detailing the inner workings of real-world cryptographic algorithms including the Data Encryption Standard and RSA public-key cryptosystems. The book includes source-code listings and extensive advice on the practical aspects of cryptography implementation, such as the importance of generating truly random numbers and of keeping keys secure.
"the definitive publicly available text on the theory and practice of cryptography" (Computer Shopper, January 2002)
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After receiving a brand new copy of this edition and seeing what the aged cover looked like, which I do not blame the seller for, I did question the legitimacy of the print itself until I noticed the Wiley holographic approval stamp. After further investigation I found the binding to be uneven causing groups of pages to not line up with others, as well as the cover which bent because the wrapping was bound around this flaw for a couple years around the almost newspaper quality paper used within the book.
Overall this is a great book to have, and while there are sections that have certainly aged since the 1st edition (and still in the 2nd edition), I would highly recommend buying the 1st edition if you like to own a book that will last for years. If you could care less if your book falls apart in a year or two, this may be the book for you, but I would still recommend purchasing a used 1st edition paperback over this edition.
This book is second to none as a crypto reference, and it's been my crypto bible since I was a grad student in the late 90s. But the Kindle conversion is unusable - the equations and source code are unreadable, which renders a good deal of the content useless. Buy the print edition. It will harm a tree but until a good conversion is done (or the actual "source code" to this book is released so aficionados can do a better conversion job) the Kindle edition is almost worse than not having the book, because just when you get to a good algorithm the text becomes unreadable.
That said, this book is a bit out of date if you are interested in studying any of the currently used technologies. Also, there is some errata that can confuse people not familiar with the topics already. Finally, some topics contain incomplete discussions.
I would love to see an updated version of this book!
The real value of Applied Cryptography is the fundamental understanding (and interest, in my case) it helps to build. Intros to terminology, theory, practical implementations, attack models, and protocol weaknesses are outlined here in great detail. I can honestly say that this book - along with lots of openssl / gnupg tinkering - have put a functional (for my sysadmin purposes) cryptography foundation within my grasp.
NB: this book is old enough that it pays to shop around for a used copy in good condition.
Throughout the book Schneier manages to include current references to the inevitable political and legal issues. These references are discussed in an engaging manner and without letting them hog the spotlight. On the other hand, in a fast-moving field like cryptography, they are beginning to get a bit long in the tooth. The book was originally published in 1996 and many of the remarks are noticeably dated (though, perhaps, historically interesting).
Printings before the fifth are also riddled with errors. Fortunately, good errata are available at Schneier's website. They are essential: if you find yourself thinking "That can't be right", it probably isn't.
Read this book first. Without some college level mathematics you may have to skim some of the chapters; still, you can probably curl up on your couch and read it cover to cover. If, afterwards, you get hooked into following up with Stinson's "Cryptograpy", or Menezes "Handbook of Applied Cryptography", don't say I didn't warn you!