For at least two thousand years there have been people who wanted to
send messages which could only be read by the people for whom they
were intended. When a message is sent by hand, carried from the sender
to the recipient, whether by a slave, as in ancient Greece or Rome, or by
the Post Office today, there is a risk of it going astray. The slave might be
captured or the postman might deliver to the wrong address. If the
message is written in clear, that is, in a natural language without any
attempt at concealment, anyone getting hold of it will be able to read it
and, if they know the language, understand it.
In more recent times messages might be sent by telegraph, radio, telephone,
fax or e-mail but the possibility of them being intercepted is still
present and, indeed, has increased enormously since, for example, a radio
transmission can be heard by anyone who is within range and tuned to
the right frequency whilst an e-mail message might go to a host of unintended
recipients if a wrong key on a computer keyboard is pressed or if a
‘virus’ is lurking in the computer.