Riddle Me This


Cryptographic messages have been found dating back to 1900 BC in Egypt. Julius Caesar was one of the more famous early rulers to use cryptography to communicate securely with his generals. His system, oddly called the Caesar Cipher would replace each letter with another letter a fixed distance from the first in the Latin alphabet. As the world became more literate, ciphers had to become more complex. One of the most secure handwritten ciphers uses a one time pad. Each party has a known scheme to encrypt/decrypt a message. At certain times, that scheme is thrown away and a new one implemented. This system worked well up until computers gained enough power to be able to find patterns. No matter how careful we are as humans to be random, we still have natural tendencies towards patterns that can be detected given enough information. Today, cryptography now exists in a digital realm with cryptographers and cryptoanalysts waging an electronic war.

  • nanoop

    I forgot who said this, probably Mr. Lightyear, but it holds true: if "they" really want to know it, they'll beat it out of you. Today they have excessive machinery, budgets, intentions in order to facilitate the decision who needs to be beaten. This, and the fact that the NSA is a huge employer of mathematicians makes me believe in a bright future for chess boxing.
    Random tinfoil hat theory why Microsoft purchased Skype: to allow complete access of US spooks to the traffic while prohibiting improvements in the encryption technology.

    • jeepjeff

      There's a technical term for that branch of cryptography: Rubber Hose Cryptography.

      As for Skype, it's been proven, solidly, that MS is decrypting and scanning all traffic at the supernode level. It's not clear how much it's being analyzed, but it is. If you type a URL into a skype chat (particularly one that's never been indexed or accessed by anyone else), a webcrawler with an IP in Microsoft's block will tag it. I don't trust it anymore (which is terrible, since my company uses it exclusively).

      • nanoop

        My company uses Skype, too, but that's ok, as the mothership is US based – it's theirs, anyway, and just to be sure they use money to get my IP (intellectual property, in this context).
        As for the MS Skype bots: I knew it! (pulls down tinfoil hat firmly)

  • To sideways eight ampersand arrow. Duh.

    • Vairship

      Terrell Owens ate Ann Darrow. Obviously.

  • CopterBob

    This is why each word in my coded messages are in a different language or dialect, randomly typed in reverse, in invisible ink on microfilm and burned before sending.

    • Vairship

      So the intended recipient has to capture the smoke and reverse-engineer the message from there? That's a tough code to break, but probably not good for long distance and/or high volume communication 😉

  • I like the encryption that's based on a language your opponent has no understanding of. Like the Choctaw and Navajo Code Talkers (recently, and awkwardly, honored during a Redskins game.)

    Remember Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra?

    • dean bigglesworth

      Reminded me of this one

      <img src=" " </img>

      and this
      <img src=" " </img>

    • Mr_Biggles

      Temba, his arms wide.

    • Vairship

      More importantly, I think, was using languages that had no agreed-upon written form, making it almost impossible for the Japanese to figure out which language it was without having actual living Navajos/Choctaws available to them.

  • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

    Somewhat relevant, and about two years ago, some fun:

    Happy gobble-gobble-fest folks!

  • <img src="; width="300">

    In Latin this could be construed as a rebus for "Titus, by means of an incision with a small spear" (TO M ET HASTULA becomes TOME T HASTULA, where T is the standard abbreviation for the name Titus) so I infer it must be a reference to the assassination of Domitian (whose full name, recall, was Titus Flavius Caesar Domitianus Augustus) in the year 96 AD. True, what Stephanus used was more of a dagger than a spear, but presumably this is either poetic license, a limitation of the chosen font, or a simple typographical error.

    • Tiller188

      Ah, darn. All that time I was thinking it was Augustus in the forum with the marble bust.

  • sawermassey

    Necronomicon…I er mean cryptonomicon

  • jeepjeff

    FWIW, a properly designed One Time Pad is still secure. In fact, they are provably immune to cryptanalysis. You cannot break them.

    Properly designed means: pad generated from a cryptographically secure random number generator, and no re-using pad data. The logistics of distributing the pad are the only ugly part. We don't use them for general communication, because the only really secure way to distribute them is to hand carry them (otherwise you are at the mercy of whatever crypto system you used to transmit the pad to your counter party).

    • I'm nostalgic for the days when we sent One Time Pads by carrier pigeon. We had to send a human courier back with a blood sample from the bird that delivered the pad so control would know who got which pad. Then we discovered the pigeons had a blood doping scheme amongst themselves, to bolster their professional pride in delivery achievements. We had to murder the whole lot.

  • PowerTryp

    Is anybody else mildly bothered that they decided to use the word TO and not the number 2? It effectively breaks the sequence by having two letters and then a single marker for the other three digits of the coded statement.

    • skitter

      2∞ is the same thing as ∞, so it would just cancel.

  • These puzzles were the primary justification for drinking Lucky Lager.