Cryptography Explained

Cryptography Explained

Though cryptography has existed for a considerable time, its importance has dramatically increased in modern times. The rise of global connectivity has led to an unprecedented demand for secure communication and data protection. Cryptography now serves as a linchpin in cybersecurity, crucial for shielding sensitive information from unauthorized access and malicious intent.

In this post, let’s explore the foundational concepts, principles, and cryptography terminology. This post lays the groundwork for what cryptography is at its core.

What is Cryptography?

In technical terms, cryptography refers to the practice and study of techniques for securing communication and data by encoding it in a manner that only authorized parties can access and understand. The term originates from the Greek words “Krypto,” meaning conceal or hidden, and “graphy,” referring to drawing, writing, or recording. Essentially, cryptography can be understood as the art and science of concealing and securing information through various methods of encoding and decoding. When it comes to Cybersecurity we can think of it as the art of concealing information.

Example of Cryptography

Throughout this post, we will hide or conceal the word “secret”. We are concealing it into a code. In the below figure, we conceal the word SECRET as a coded message VHFUHW.

Image showing SECRET encrypted to VHFUHW

What is a Cryptographer?

A “cryptographer” refers to an individual tasked with either crafting or deciphering coded messages.

What is Plain Text?

“Plain text” denotes the original message before encryption. The figure below shows the portion that is considered to be plain text.

Image shows what is plain text

What is Cipher Text?

A “cipher text” represents the message after encryption. The yellow box in the figure below shows what we consider the cipher text.

Image shows cipher text

What is Encryption?

The process of transforming plain text into cipher text is termed “encryption.” In the figure below, the yellow box highlights the arrow which represents the process of turning plain text into cipher text.

Image highlights arrow showing encryption

What is Decryption?

Decryption is when we take the cipher text and convert it back to plain text. Notice in the figure below, that the arrow now is reversed. This denotes the process of reversing the encryption that happened in our last step.

Arrow points other direction representing decryption

What is a Cipher?

A cipher is just the process or algorithm that’s used to encrypt a message or decrypt a message. It is the process that it goes through, and there are a lot of different ciphers out there. AES, DES, and RSA are examples of ciphers that can be used to encrypt and decrypt messages.

image shows encryption is done using a cipher

Ciphers are a specific type of algorithm, the algorithms that are used to encrypt and decrypt messages.

What is an Algorithm?

In technical terms, an algorithm is a systematic procedure or set of instructions designed to solve a specific computational problem or perform a particular task. It involves taking an input, processing it through a defined sequence of steps, and producing an output. In essence, an algorithm encapsulates the logical and computational steps necessary to address a problem or achieve a desired result.

Example: here is the process defined in our cipher/algorithm:

  1. Start with the first letter. Our first letter is S and we look it up on the chart.
  2. The corresponding letter to S is V in our chart. Substitute the letter with the new letter.
  3. Repeat steps one and two for each of the letters of the plain text. E becomes an H, C becomes an F, and so on.




instructions on how the Caeser Cipher works

This specific Cipher is known as the Ceasar Cipher because it was used by Julius Caesar around 58 BC, this is an old and simplistic way to encrypt and decrypt messages. 

What is Cryptanalysis?

Cryptanalysis is the art of reverse engineering or decrypting things without knowing all the variables that go into it. In our example. Someone may figure out that our cipher text (VHFUHW) translates to SECRET when decoded without any table or prior knowledge of how it was encrypted to begin with.

A common trick to cryptanalysis is to look for repeated letters. The letter E is one of the most common letters in the English alphabet. If you see a repeated pattern, you could try substituting E’s for the most repeated letters. In our example, someone might guess that H’s has a high probability of being an E because of both the frequency of use and position in the cipher text. This assumption would be correct.

Someone may then try to create a decoding table shown above by shifting all letters to 3 positions. They could then use the table to decode the rest of the letters, which would also prove to be correct.

As you can see, this simple Caesar Cipher could be easily reverse-engineered, making it a poor cipher. We call this a weak cipher.

What is a Cipher Key?

A key is additional information that you need, along with the cipher, in order to encode or decode a secret message.

As you can see in our cryptanalysis description, a simple Caesar Cipher is easily discovered nowadays. We can make this a little more complex so it will be harder to break. For instance, maybe this time when you receive a message, it’s shifting the alphabet by 3 but maybe next time it’s going to be by 6, and maybe the time after that it’s going to be by 9. By shifting the letters a different amount every time, you’ve increased the complexity. Of course, you’ll need to know how many characters you need to shift the alphabet by, and that’s where the key comes into play.

image shows a cipher key of 8

Essentially, a cipher key allows us to create more secure encryption even if someone knows the cipher that we are using. Modern cryptography requires the use of keys since the cipher algorithms are well-documented and known by many.

What is Substitution?

What we are doing here is a type of cryptography that is called substitution. We are substituting our letters for different letters. It doesn’t have to be other letters, it could be numbers, symbols, or other representations as well. 

What is Transposition?

Transposition is another way that we can encrypt a message and we do that by shifting the letters rather than substituting them. Here is an example:


illustration of transposition

In the example, we’ve moved the 1st, 3rd, and 5th letters over one to create our cipher text.

Want to know more? Check our full module on encryption on our YouTube Channel:

Foundations of Cybersecurity, Module 6: Cryptography

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Stellar Leadership: A Technical Dive into Building Strong Leaders

Stellar Leadership: A Technical Dive into Building Strong Leaders

In today’s dynamic and competitive tech landscape, effective leadership stands as the cornerstone of success for any team. The upcoming in-person event, “Stellar Leadership: The Journey of a Strong Leader,” in Portland at The Melody Center offers tech managers or those looking to level up their careers, a comprehensive toolkit to elevate their leadership skills and drive their teams towards stronger performance and success.

Unraveling the Fabric of Great Leadership:

At the core of this workshop lies a deep dive into the essence of leadership. We will embark on a journey to define what constitutes great leadership in the realm of IT management. Drawing upon real-world examples and empirical research, attendees will gain insights into the fundamental characteristics that distinguish exceptional leaders from the rest.

Deciphering Impactful Leadership Traits:

In a world inundated with diverse leadership styles, it becomes imperative to discern the traits that wield the greatest influence on team performance. Through rigorous analysis and discussion, we will identify the primary leadership traits that have a direct correlation with enhanced team engagement, productivity, and retention. Furthermore, we will explore the nuanced interplay between primary and secondary leadership traits, offering attendees a roadmap for cultivating and reinforcing their leadership style.

Crafting Your Personal Leadership Blueprint:

Central to the workshop agenda is the creation of a personalized leadership profile tailored to each participant’s unique strengths and challenges. By leveraging insights gleaned from the session, attendees will craft a strategic framework that aligns their leadership approach with organizational objectives. This personalized blueprint will serve as a compass, guiding IT managers toward greater confidence, team engagement, and operational excellence.

Led by industry veteran Andrew Grimes, former Technical Manager at a leading Tech Company, the workshop promises an immersive learning experience designed to empower IT managers at every stage of their leadership journey. From defining the essence of leadership to crafting a bespoke strategy, participants will traverse a meticulously curated agenda aimed at unlocking their full potential as leaders.

This workshop was developed for IT managers who aspire to push their teams to new heights of performance and innovation. Whether you’re a seasoned leader seeking to refine your approach or an emerging talent eager to hone your skills, this event offers invaluable insights and strategies to accelerate your leadership trajectory.

Key session outcomes:

Attendees can anticipate a myriad of tangible outcomes from their participation in the workshop:

  1. Enhanced Confidence: Equip yourself with the confidence to lead with conviction and clarity in the face of complex challenges.
  2. Elevated Team Engagement: Foster a culture of collaboration and empowerment that ignites passion and commitment among team members.
  3. Amplified Productivity: Harness the collective potential of your team to drive operational excellence and achieve strategic objectives.
  4. Improved Employee Retention: Cultivate an environment where talent thrives and flourishes, reducing turnover and fostering long-term loyalty.
  5. Enhanced Service Quality: Elevate the caliber of your team’s output, delivering products and services that surpass industry standards.
  6. Mitigated Stress and Burnout: Implement strategies to promote employee well-being and resilience, mitigating the risk of burnout and enhancing overall team morale.

Join us in Portland, register here. Keep up with our in-person and online sessions by signing up for our newsletter. Join the community conversation on LinkedIn | Facebook | X | Instagram

Cybersecurity Fundamentals

Cybersecurity Fundamentals

TechKnowSurge is launching its new course, Cybersecurity Fundamentals. The course covers the fundamentals of Cybersecurity, what it is, threats to an organization, and what steps are needed to protect against such threats. The course covers the topics with simple explanations, real-world examples, and clears up misconceptions about cybersecurity principles and terminology. Watch it all or the specific module you are interested in knowing more about. The course covers topics that can clear up confusion with even the more advanced IT professionals. However, the course is designed more for those who don’t have as much experience. It also covers security objectives from many certifications and is a great foundation for studying for many other certifications. Objectives of the course are drawn from the following IT certification objectives:

  • CompTIA IT Fundamentals (ITF+)
  • CompTIA A+ care 2
  • CompTIA Server+
  • CompTIA Security+
  • CompTIA Network+
  • CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+)
  • Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA)

Explore the comprehensive courses covering vital cybersecurity concepts such as:

  • Module 1: Defining Cybersecurity
  • Module 2: Threats to Cybersecurity
  • Module 3: Protecting Against Threats
  • Module 4: Identity and Access Management
  • Module 5: Confidentiality
  • Module 6: Cryptography
  • Module 7: Integrity
  • Module 8: Public Key Infrastructure
  • Module 9: Availability
  • Module 10: Securing Your Network

Videos are being released on a daily basis on the TechKnowSurge YouTube channel. It will later be released at Don’t miss out on the latest trends and insider tips – sign up for my exclusive newsletter here []. Stay ahead in the fast-paced world of cybersecurity with expert insights delivered right to your inbox. Join the community conversation on LinkedIn | Facebook | X | Instagram

The Operational Success Model

The Operational Success Model

Watch on YouTube

The efficiency, productivity, and ultimately the success of a company, department, or team can be divided into 4 elements. Understanding these elements, the roles they play, and how to optimize each element can lead to stellar performance. The four elements are leadership, people, process, and tools.

Every team is delivering a product or service. The quality and speed at which they deliver that product or service can vary depending on how well-developed the four elements are. The four elements can be broken into these questions:

  • People – Who is doing the work? More specifically, what are the skillsets and characteristics of an employee?
  • Process – How are they doing the work? This is about the processes that are predefined for the employee or team.
  • Tools – What tools are available to them to do their work?
  • Leadership – How does the work contribute to the success of the company?

However, not all elements have the same impact. A great employee is like a magic wand, overcoming a lack of leadership, lack of processes, and bad toolsets. In contrast, an employee who doesn’t have a strong skill set may not be able to use a great tool efficiently.

Operational Success Model with Leadership as it's base, supported by people, operations next, then tools

In this post, we’ll further define the 4 elements that go into a team’s success and explore the importance of each of these elements. There’s also an assessment you can use to assess the maturity level of your organization, department, or team.

I’ll use company, organization, department, or team interchangeably throughout this post since the concept can apply to any level.


At the core of a great team is its leadership. When leadership shines, the company works in unison cranking out high-quality products and services. You have highly engaged employees that coordinate their efforts to accomplish the goals. Ultimately, the goal of leadership is to create a strong vision and drive the team towards that vision.

Poor leaders hire the wrong people, choose the wrong objectives, don’t communicate goals well, do not set clear expectations, and allow teams to head in directions that don’t contribute to the organization’s success.

Hiring and retaining the right team members is a core function of leadership. Once you have the right team members, they can accelerate the team’s progress toward its goals. Get the wrong team member, and it can bring the team’s progress to a grinding halt and negatively impact the culture of the team.

Look at it this way, if a team were a vehicle, then the leadership is the steering wheel. You could be driving 100 miles per hour, but if it’s in the wrong direction, you won’t be making progress toward your goals.

FYI, the video on my YouTube channel gives a great analogy around Leadership, People, Operations, and Tools. Watch on YouTube


If leaders are the steering wheel of the vehicle, the team members are the engine, driveline, and wheels that will propel the vehicle forward. Having the right team members will help define how long it will take to get to the destination, or possibly if you can get there at all.

Can a great employee overcome bad leadership?

Absolutely! but… A great employee can still be productive and efficient. However, if the leadership is not strong, then you’ll probably encounter one or more of the following:

  • The organization got lucky in hiring the employee and other employees are not as productive.
  • The employee runs into blockers because other employees are not working towards the same goals. This leads to inefficiencies in an employee’s work.
  • The employee could get frustrated with time which will lead to burnout and that employee leaving the company.
  • A single employee outperforming other employees can lead to a heightened sense of ego. This has a tendency to alienate other employees and lead to inefficiency.

Can a team overcome bad leadership?

Absolutely! But… most likely, leadership still exists, it’s just taken on another form. Either the team has an unofficial leader (a leader without an official leadership title), or the group is self-organized creating a distributed leadership role. In this situation, you may find the following:

  • The unofficial leader could leave and the team would lose its leadership
  • If the team has a distributed leadership role, it’s based on the team’s dynamic as a whole. A change in the team’s membership (an employee leaves) could have drastic consequences on the team’s dynamics and its ability to self-lead.
  • The team could be highly productive, but if the rest of the organization isn’t leading to the same goals, the company as a whole is inefficient.

Can a team overcome bad operations and toolsets?

Absolutely! There is some loss in productivity, but when I hire a stellar employee, it’s like someone took their foot off the brakes and stepped on the gas. Often these employees are the solutions to putting good operations and toolsets in place.


First, let’s define operations. These are the processes, policies, procedures, and guidelines that employees use to do their work. This could be the training that new employees get, the documentation employees follow, the process of how work is assigned, and how projects are managed. This also includes the unspoken rules that the team dynamics developed.

A team’s operations can both affect individual team members’ productivity and how the team functions together.

Here are some of the questions this attempts to answer:

  • How are you going to communicate?
  • How are you going to assign work?
  • How will you overcome obstacles?

When you have your operations clearly defined, you create a basis for improvement. Without having operations clearly defined, you rely on the memory of the individuals carrying out any given function. By clearly defining steps, processes, policies, and guidelines, you now have a playbook that can be tested and improved upon. When something fails, I ask my team to find out what process failed and how we can fix it. It’s an easy way to shift the blame from a team member to something without feelings of defensiveness. It’s a great way to discover solutions in a non-judgmental atmosphere.

Can operations overcome bad leadership?

No! Leadership is the key to implementing good operations, but operations do not define leadership. Essentially, leadership would utilize operations the way “People” (the employees) would use “Tools”. That is operations is the toolset for leaders, it’s what they use to run the company, department, or team.

Can operations overcome bad employees?

No! If you have employees who forget or refuse to follow a process, the process becomes useless. Operations can help make an employee more efficient or productive, but only if they choose to use it.

Can operations overcome bad tools?

Yes! There are plenty of times we would like to roll out a new software or service that better fits our needs, but it’s not in the budget, we don’t have the time, or other barrier to a tool that we would ideally have. We compensate by creating a process that uses a less-than-ideal tool. As an example, there are plenty of times I’ve used Microsoft Excel to track work, document network settings, or track budget when there are other tools that would have been a better solution. Excel was a great stand-in until I was in a better position to roll out a different tool.

One thing to note is that the importance of operations will vary depending on the team and the work they are performing. The company’s size, industry, product/service, and other factors will largely determine the depth of operations needed. Highly skilled, professional, and creative teams need less structure. A team working a manufacturing line will be very process (operations) heavy and the detail of each task gets mapped down to the smallest detail. Professional, skilled, and/or creative teams need less direction. However, even with these teams, there are benefits to defining at least some operational components.

As you better define and document operations, you increase efficiency, increase predictability, improve quality, reduce waste, reduce downtime, and reduce errors.

I look at every team and its processes as if it were a machine. Often, leadership wants to increase productivity when the machine is not operating well. Increasing the speed of a machine that is not well-oiled, prone to mechanical issues, and is not maintained well, only increases its downtime and need for repairs. Spend the time to do the proper maintenance and make improvements and you will increase its performance without downtime. That is, spend time getting your “People” and “Operations” correct, and you can increase productivity without risking burnout, failures, and poor-quality work.


Having the right toolset has profound benefits. Often, we can think of “Tools” as being the software and services we purchase to help us accomplish our goals. These can facilitate a team’s growth and productivity. Give a team the wrong set of tools, and their performance can be hindered. You wouldn’t give someone who changes tires a hammer, nor would you give a construction framer a tire iron.

Can a great tool overcome poor Leadership, People, or Operations? No! As an IT person, I’ve often been asked to implement technical changes and tools to overcome employee deficiencies. I have not seen it be successful.

Is the best tool the best tool? What? That’s not a typo. Each tool implemented also has a potential negative impact. Often, I’m asked to implement a software solution that will increase productivity for a team but isn’t necessarily the best tool for the company. At one company I worked for, different teams used different messaging platforms. One team used HipChat, another used Slack, and yet another used the company’s unified communications. They each had their reasons why their tool was the best and most productive for their respective team. However, it caused confusion and miscommunication amongst the teams and the company as a whole didn’t benefit from having multiple messaging platforms.

Additionally, many tools take time and energy to implement and manage. Trying to find a different toolset for every position in the company can be exhausting to support. A big key to finding success in this area is to find the right balance between how many tools you are supporting while still meeting the needs of all the team members.

I also find many users think a tool is going to revolutionize productivity. Most of the time, those expectations are never met. I’ve rushed implementations of software solutions for stakeholders because of the urgency in which they needed a solution only to find out the solution didn’t meet their needs. Tools are there to facilitate or enhance leadership, team members, and operations, but they cannot take the place of the other three elements.

How to Improve Operational Success

Each one of these areas needs time and intention. Success starts with Leadership. TechKnowSurge offers a workshop to help your leadership skills grow. Our workshop is designed to:

  • Increase teams productivity
  • Increase employee retention
  • Deliver better quality product
  • Reducing stress and burnout for you and your team

📝Operational Success Assessment📝


How does your team stack up? Take the assessment below and find out. Rate each of the statements using the following scale:

1 = Completely disagree
2 = Disagree
3 = Neutral
4 = Agree
5 = Completely agree

Answer all the questions from the individual team members' perspective, not from a management/leadership perspective. Use the dropdown to rate each area (Leadership, People, Operations, Tools), then hit submit to see how others responded.


  1. I have a high degree of trust that leadership is making the right decisions
  2. leadership has a strong vision and communicates it well
  3. I understand my role in making the vision a reality
  4. Leadership sets high but achievable standards and communicates them well
  5. Leadership gives me the guidance and direction I need to be successful in my role


  1. We have the right team members to be successful
  2. Every team member is in the right position to perform the functions of their role
  3. Every team member is skilled and knowledgeable to be successful in their roles
  4. Team members follow the policy, procedures, and guidelines set by leadership
  5. Team members are open to adapting to changes


  1. The policies, procedures, and guidelines are well-documented and clearly communicated
  2. The policies, procedures, and guidelines seem appropriate for the size of the team/department/company
  3. The policies, procedures, and guidelines help contribute to our success
  4. The policies, procedures, and guidelines are routinely evaluated and changed
  5. Team members are notified and/or trained when there are changes to the policies and procedures


  1. I have access to the right tools needed to do my job
  2. Each tool I’m required to use has a valuable function
  3. I have the training and knowledge to properly use the tools that are available to me
  4. Tools are routinely evaluated and changed to meet the teams/departments/companies changing needs
  5. There are processes in place to request new tool sets

Additional Resource

TechKnowSurge has a newsletter! Sign up to learn more about developing leadership, people, processes, and tools!

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The Top IT Certifications to Boost Your Career in 2024

The Top IT Certifications to Boost Your Career in 2024

Earning certifications is a badge of hard-earned sweat and time. Is it always clear what cert comes next and when for you? The world wide web is certainly not short of advice and listicles for every potential career and certification path. From your experience in the IT sector, you know good advice comes from quality sources. TechKnowSurge makes it easy.

Pooling from the top IT websites with their own recommendations, TechKnowSurge has compiled the data into digestible information. Looking for the top IT certs for 2024? Are you curious what the leading certification vendors are this year?

Here’s a snapshot along with a preview of recommendations based on your career path:


This is just a quick peek, watch the YouTube video for the full list. 

#5 – PMP, the mastermind’s toolkit—scope, schedule, budget, and resources – you’ll wield them flawlessly, even when the tech world throws curveballs. Trust us, it will happen. 

#8 – AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional or affectionately, the cloud whisperer—from serverless computing to data lakes, you’ll speak the language of the cloud fluently.


Certification categories matter in the world of IT—new definitions for ‘fire alarms’ are continually added to the networking lexicon, threats evolve, and cables eventually talk to themselves. Like current conditions, certification categories adapt to match trends. Here are two popular categories (of six major ones):

#2 – Security Certs

#5 – Data Related Certs

View TechKnowSurge’s video for the remaining cert categories such as cloud and architect and where they rank.  


Certifying organizations aka vendors issue these stamps of knowledge and skills, or as we love to call them, badges of identities. You can never have enough, they say. The certs from vendors can propel your career and gain entry to new possibilities. 

#3 – Google

#5 – Microsoft

#6 – Cisco

Most can rattle off top names—but do they match the data? 

Get a PDF Summary, click here

PDF Summary of Data


Are you a mid-career system administrator or a project manager enthusiast? Perhaps the next cybersecurity evangelist? Should you obtain the A+ or the AWS with Google certificate? Perhaps you only need two more for your LinkedIn profile.

TechKnowSurge has these recommendations for your IT journey in 2024.

Watch TechKnowSurge’s video for all these answers (and because it’s good listening)

#AWS #Google #Cisco #Linux 




TechKnowSurge (TKS): Empowering Tech Leaders for Success

TechKnowSurge (TKS): Empowering Tech Leaders for Success

Navigating the ever-evolving tech landscape comes with its unique set of challenges, posing constant hurdles for leaders in the industry. As the demand for technological solutions surges, tech departments often find themselves grappling with inadequate resources. This places a significant strain on tech leaders striving to enhance the quality of products and services for their companies while struggling to meet the escalating demand for solutions.

The good news is, you’re not alone. TechKnowSurge is here to provide the resources and connections you need for success. We offer a wealth of tools and support to equip you and your team for success. Here’s how we can assist you:

  1. Leadership Courses:

Our interactive workshops are designed to accelerate your team’s performance, elevate the quality of your products and services, and reduce team member turnover. Our unique leadership workshops impart the skills and knowledge necessary to take your team’s success to the next level.

  1. Leadership Meetup Group:

Join a community of tech leaders facing similar challenges. Our Leadership Meetup Group offers a platform for inspiration, clarification, and support. Connect with tech leaders from diverse backgrounds and expertise levels to find solutions, provide guidance, and foster collaboration.

  1. Leadership Coaching:

For personalized guidance, our one-on-one coaching packages are tailored to address specific challenges you’re currently facing. Accelerate your leadership skills by receiving direct assistance to overcome obstacles and achieve your goals faster.

  1. IT Consulting:

Facing specific IT challenges? Whether it’s cybersecurity, process improvement, workflow management, or other enhancements for your IT department, we have the expertise to efficiently solve these problems.

  1. Technical Solutions:

Struggling to select the right technology solutions? Benefit from our extensive expertise to find the most suitable software and services for your needs.

  1. Free Audits:

If you’re unsure where to start, take advantage of our free audits. Explore our Cybersecurity audit, Managed Solutions Audit, and Cost Optimization Audit to determine the right next steps for your organization.

At TechKnowSurge, our mission is to empower you to succeed. We are committed to continuously developing resources that support your journey to success.