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Network Security: Block Cipher Modes of Operations

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Discover the fundamentals of block ciphers and their modes of operation in our informative article. Learn how block ciphers encrypt data in fixed-size blocks, explore popular modes like ECB, CBC, CFB, OFB, CTR, and GCM, and understand their security implications. Enhance your understanding of encryption algorithms and their role in safeguarding sensitive information.

Before moving ahead, let’s take a look at Data Encryption Standard.

Table of Contents

Differential Cryptanalysis

Differential Cryptanalysis is the technique performed by the attacker to find the relationship between the encrypted related plaintexts; to reduce the amount of finding the algorithm/key used in the encryption process.   

In other words, Differential Cryptanalysis is used to analyze and break cryptographic algorithms, remarkably symmetric block ciphers.

The main aim of differential cryptanalysis is to destroy the statistical properties of the ciphertexts. It includes the differences between the pairs of plaintexts and their corresponding ciphertexts when processed by the cipher. By analyzing these differences, an attacker can gain information about the internal structure of the cipher, including the key used for encryption.

Process of differential cryptanalysis

Differential Characteristic Generation: An attacker constructs a set of plaintext pairs that differ by a specific input difference. These pairs are then encrypted using the target cipher to generate a set of ciphertext pairs.

Statistical Analysis: The attacker analyzes the differences between the ciphertext pairs to determine any patterns. By studying these differences, the attacker can gather information about the cipher’s internal operations and crack the secret key algorithm.

Key Recovery: Based on the observed differentials and their statistical properties, the attacker attempts to recover the secret key. This may involve solving equations or employing other mathematical techniques to crack the key bits.

Block Cipher

Block Cipher is the symmetric encryption algorithm that is considered on bits; where a group of fixed-size of bits of plaintext is taken as a block to encrypt. The whole plaintext is not taken at once, instead, a block cipher (group of some bits) is taken once and the step is repeated until the whole plaintext is encrypted during the encryption process. 

Block Cipher - codingstreets
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Modes of Operations of Block Cipher

Electronic Code Book (ECB) Mode

Electronic Code Book (ECB) Mode is the easiest way in other modes of operations since it encrypts each plaintext independently; meaning that the encryption and decryption process is divided into a square method and each square is considered independent of other squares. The encryption process starts by taking the plaintext to implement the key in the encryption process to encrypt the text into ciphertext.

Electronic Code Book (ECB) Mode - codingstreets
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Code Block Chaining (CBC) Mode

In the code block binding (CBC) method of activity, an instatement vector (IV) is restrictive ored with the plaintext before encryption. For the first round of encryption, this is an arbitrary, public worth. For resulting adjusts, it is the ciphertext of the past round. This is proposed to fix the issue with ECB mode where indistinguishable plaintext blocks make indistinguishable ciphertext blocks.

Code Block Chaining (CBC) Mode - codingstreets
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Cipher Feedback (CFB)

Cipher Feedback (CFB) converts a block cipher into a stream cipher. Instead of encrypting the plaintext blocks directly, it encrypts the previous ciphertext block and XORs it with the plaintext to produce the ciphertext. It can operate with smaller block sizes and allows for byte-level encryption and decryption.

Code Block Chaining (CBC) Mode 1- codingstreets
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Output/Yield Feedback (OFB) Mode

Output Feedback (OFB) Mode – Output Feedback (OFB) Mode converts a block cipher into a stream cipher. It generates the key in the encryption process with IV, and that key is already performed with the XORed function on the plaintext to produce the ciphertext. OFB mode is similar to CFB mode but operates in a self-synchronizing manner, meaning a transmission error only affects a single block.

Yield Feedback (OFB) Mode - codingstreets
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Cipher Feedback (CFB)

Cipher Feedback (CFB) converts a block cipher into a stream cipher. Instead of encrypting the plaintext blocks directly, it encrypts the previous ciphertext block and XORs it with the plaintext to produce the ciphertext. It can operate with smaller block sizes and allows for byte-level encryption and decryption.

Counter (CTR)

CTR mode transforms a block cipher into a stream cipher by using a counter as the input to the block cipher. The counter value is encrypted to generate the keystream, which is then XORed with the plaintext to produce the ciphertext. CTR mode allows for parallel encryption and decryption of blocks and is often used in high-speed communication systems.

Counter (CTR) Mode - codingstreets

Galois/Counter Mode (GCM)

GCM mode combines the Counter (CTR) mode with additional authentication and integrity-checking mechanisms. It provides both confidentiality and authenticity of the data, making it suitable for secure communication and storage. GCM mode is widely used in modern cryptographic protocols like TLS (Transport Layer Security).

These are just a few examples of block cipher modes of operation. Each mode has its own properties and is suitable for different applications. The choice of mode depends on the specific requirements of the cryptographic system, including security, performance, and data integrity. It is important to understand the characteristics and security implications of each mode to select the appropriate one for a given scenario.

Galois Counter Mode - codingstreets

Advantages and disadvantages of Block Cipher


Security Strength – Block ciphers offer a high level of security when properly designed and implemented. Block ciphers can provide strong encryption for sensitive data with a suitable key length and robust algorithm.

Confusion –  Block ciphers employ confusion techniques to ensure that even a small change in the input data results in significant changes in the encrypted output. 

Error  –  Block ciphers have the advantage of the error. If an error occurs during encryption or decryption, it affects all blocks. This property makes it difficult for an attacker to modify specific bits without causing detectable changes in the decrypted output.

Versatility – Block ciphers can be used for various cryptographic applications. They can provide encryption and decryption functions for data confidentiality and integrity protection.


Slow Encryption – Block ciphers are generally slower than other encryption algorithms, such as stream ciphers, as they encrypt data as a block of bits or a group of bits, typically 64 or 128 bits.

Fewer Memory Requirements – Block ciphers require more memory than stream ciphers because they operate on a large amount of data at a time.

Performance and Efficiency – Block ciphers can be computationally more difficult than stream ciphers, especially for large amounts of data or in real-time applications. As the data process is blocked by block, required iterations in certain operations can result in slower encryption and decryption speeds.

Key Management Complexity – Block ciphers require careful key management practices. Generating and securely distributing random and unique keys, especially in large-scale systems, can be challenging.


This article provides an overview of block ciphers and their modes of operation. Block ciphers are symmetric encryption algorithms that operate on fixed-size blocks of data. They use a secret key to encrypt and decrypt the data, providing confidentiality and integrity.

Also, it explains various block cipher modes of operation, including Electronic Codebook (ECB), Cipher Block Chaining (CBC), Cipher Feedback (CFB), Output Feedback (OFB), Counter (CTR), and Galois/Counter Mode (GCM). These modes enable the encryption of data that exceeds the block size of the cipher and offer different security properties such as randomness, self-synchronization, parallel processing, and authentication.

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