Dev Notes

Various Cheat Sheets and Resources by David Egan/Carawebs.

Information Entropy

Cryptography, Information Theory
David Egan

Information Entropy is the average rate at which information is produced by a stochastic(random) source of data.

What is Information?

Information is what you get when uncertainty around an event is decreased. Before a fair coin-toss, there is an equal probabilty of the toss resulting in heads or tails - the result is uncertain. After the toss, there is no more uncertainty and information (the result of the toss) has been gained.

The amount of information in a message is defined as the minimum number of bits required to represent all possible meanings of the message, assuming that all messages are equally likely (Scshneier, 1996).

In terms of the coin toss, because there are only two outcomes you can represent all possible outcomes with a single bit.

Entropy is used to quantify uncertainty. For a coin toss, entropy is 1 since this represents the minimum number of bits to represent all possible outcomes.

Definition of Entropy

Entropy is a way of measuring the uncertainty of a stochastic variable (Schiffman).

The amount of information that could be conveyed by a message is measured by the entropy of the message.

The amount of information in a message is the minimum number of bits required to represent the message.

The entropy of a message indicating whether to proceed or not can be represented by a single bit, since by definition a bit has one of two states:

Proceed? Minimum Representation in bits
No 0
Yes 1

The days of the week can be represented by slightly less than 3 bits:

Day of week Minimum representation in bits
Sunday 000
Monday 001
Tuesday 010
Wednesday 011
Thursday 100
Friday 101
Saturday 110
Unused 111

There are 7 potential days of the week, so the information must be represented by a minimum of 7 binary states. How many bits are required to represent 7 distinct states?

The lowest number that can represent 7 states is 6: {0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6} - as shown above in binary format. The number 6 represented in binary format is 110, or 22.59, or log2 6.

Because a binary system represents data in discrete bits, the number of bits required to represent a number must be an integer not a fraction. In this case, 3 bits are required to represent the 7 states.

In a base 2 system, this generalises to 2n where n is the minimum number of digits required to represent all possible states.

Entropy, though measured in bits, is not information. It is rather a measurement of how much information is not available when the outcome of a random source of information is unknown.

Mnimum Representation in Bits

The minimum power of 2 that is greater than or equal to the number of states.

Where the number of states is n,

log<sub>2</sub> n

The binary logarithm (log2 n) is the power to which the number 2 must be raised to obtain the value n. For any real number x:

x = log2⁡ n ⟺ 2x = n.

Double a number adds 1 to binary logarithm:

23 (8) 22 (4) 21 (2) 20 (1) Decimal log2⁡ n
  1 0 0 4 2
1 0 0 0 8 3

Upper Limits

For storage of raw data, not the information content of the data:

  • 2 bits: 4 different values
  • 3 bits: 8 different values
  • 4 bits: 16 different values
  • 8 bits: 256 different values

Practical Uses

When calculating the entropy of a password or passphrase, entropy is defined as log base 2 of the number of characters/words that the password has been randomly selected from to the power of the password/passphrase length.

The Bash script below calculates the entropy of words that have been pseudo-randomly selected from a word list. In this case, character set is the number of words available to select from and the length is the number of pseudorandom words output.

function entropy {
	export WORDSET=$1
	export WORDS=$2
	python3 - <<- EOF
	import math; import os;
	# Entropy is log base 2 of the keyspace to the power of the length 
	r = math.log(int(os.environ['WORDSET']) ** int(os.environ['WORDS']), 2)
	print(round(r, 2))


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