This presentation was delivered at CypherCon 5.3 and addresses the intersection between Renaissance and Early Modern occultism and cryptography. The motives of alchemists, magicians, and other occultists are inferred from the manner in which each of the exemplars used cryptography. Both individual actors and the ciphers they used are considered, along with their cultural contexts. You can download the PowerPoint presentation (link below), and view the recording on the Hackers of CypherCon YouTube channel. The abstract is below.

Long before it became an infosec capture-the-flag staple, steganography had its birth in the Steganographia of Johannes Trithemius, an early 16th century book of magic and secret writing. Though it remains perhaps the most widely known, this is but one among countless examples of cryptography from the Renaissance and early modern eras used by alchemists, magicians, and dissidents to conceal their hidden knowledge from the prying eyes of the uninitiated. By applying the lens of cyber threat intelligence to the Steganographia and other examples of Renaissance and early modern cryptography, we can give ourselves greater insight into the motivations and threat models that drove subversive actors centuries before PGP was a gleam in Phil Zimmerman’s eyes. As we explore these historical examples through a threat intel lens, I will show how modern-day incident responders and other infosec practitioners can enrich their investigations by applying this same approach to their daily work.

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