Sunday, January 23, 2005

Cryptocool

I've always had a fascination with puzzels, even though I'm pretty lousy at solving them. part fo the mystique of encryption is the hidden meaning. The secret wish that what will be revealed upon solving the problem will be more than just a grocery list of insignificant data, but something profound that perhaps might give meaning to life. Then, their are the puzzles that are just frickin cool. Wired News:

What does it say about the Central Intelligence Agency that its agents can crack the secret codes of enemy nations but can't unravel a coded sculpture sitting outside their cafeteria window?

It says, perhaps, that artist Jim Sanborn, who created the cryptographic sculpture named Kryptos that sits on CIA grounds, could have a career in covert operations if he ever grows tired of stumping the experts.

[...]

It's been nearly 15 years since Sanborn installed the 12-foot-high, verdigrised copper, granite and wood sculpture inscribed with four encrypted messages at the CIA's Langley, Virginia, headquarters in 1990. And it's been seven years since anyone made progress at cracking its code.

But publication of the novel The Da Vinci Code has renewed interest in solving the puzzle because author Dan Brown made two veiled references to Kryptos on his book's dust jacket. Brown's publisher sponsored a contest around the references, and Brown has hinted that his next book, which takes place in Washington, D.C., may feature the sculpture in some way.
This is good news to Elonka Dunin, an executive producer and manager at Missouri gaming company Simutronics, who is obsessed with cracking Kryptos and thinks that the more people who work on the puzzle the quicker they'll solve it.

"We have lots of different theories that we're chasing down," Dunin said of her band of sleuths, which includes some CIA employees. "But there's no way we'll know whether we're on the right track until something comes loose."

Kryptos isn't a complete mystery. Parts of it have been solved.

In 1998, CIA analyst David Stein cracked three of the four coded messages after diddling over the problem with paper and pencil for about 400 hours spread over many lunch breaks. Only his CIA colleagues initially knew of his success, since the agency didn't publicize it. A year later, California computer scientist Jim Gillogly gained public notoriety when he cracked the same three messages using a Pentium II.

But for 15 years, the last Kryptos section has remained unsolved. And when experts or amateurs do decipher it, they'll know what it says but not necessarily what it means. Sculptor Sanborn said the text is a riddle, which requires sleuths to be on the CIA grounds to solve it.

[...]

Until now, only three people were said to know the solution to Kryptos. Sanborn, a CIA cryptographer named Ed Scheidt who helped him choose and alter the coding techniques for the sculpture, and former CIA director William Webster, who received a sealed envelope containing the solution, which sits in a CIA archive until the time when someone solves the puzzle.

[...]

The CIA required Sanborn to write the solution down and present it to Webster so the agency wouldn't be embarrassed if the sculpture turned out to contain a message that was pornographic or critical of the agency. Sanborn gave officials an envelope with a wax seal. But Sanborn said he didn't give Webster the whole story.

"Well, you know, I wasn't completely truthful with the man," Sanborn said, laughing. "And I'm sure he realizes that. I mean that's part of trade craft, isn't it? Deception is everywhere.... I definitely didn't give him the last section, which has never been deciphered."


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