A different written art...
What Is This?
This, meaning this page on ciphers, is my own little "shrine" to the act of cryptography. This is not meant to be an exhaustive listing of thousands of ways of secret writing, but it is meant, instead, to be more of braistorming of techniques I find fun (though not necessarily secure) and ways to use cryptography in more than the old cloak-and-dagger sense of the word.
Is this some sort of "anti-government", "paranoid", "delusional" thing?
No. I am the kind of guy that will come right out and say something if I think something is wrong with the government, and I have no delusions (pun intended) about the longevity of enciphered, sensitive material. This page is part a dedication to a friend (see below) and part me expounding upon one of my hobbies.
How secure are the methods described/mentioned?
My interest largely lies in the historical methods, designed before computers to be written out by hand. They largely took advantage of the sheer number of possibilities to throw off any who try and intercept (how many ways can you navigate through a 15x15 cell of text?). The problem with historical methods is that processing power is easier and easier to come by, and what used to take weeks of copying out code in different layouts and with differen keywords can be done in hours by a computer, if it takes that long. It doesn't even take that much to write a script that would take a string of letters, rearrange them, and then spit out possible words. Of course, there is the flipside, thanks to computers, quite complex paths and ciphers can be made (a good example is the rise of the the public-key methods, which do amazingly complex work in an amazingly short period of time, and answer just about everyone's needs) though most of the detailed programming stuff I will not get into.
What's the point of this page, then?
Like I said above, historical context and a tribute to a friend of mine. Outside of that, I find these to be far more fun than pubkeys. You can access my public key if you want to send me encrypted messages, and its a pretty good one, and I even know a little bit about how it was made. But it fails to satisfy that hands on spinning of a cipher wheel, or playing with a particularly clever transposition. No, this page is mostly about bringing the fun back into...um...the fundamentals of encryption...(yeah, I know...that sucked...). Also, though, on a less puncraptic note, this has enabled me to learn a lot of ends and outs about programming. It gave me something to focus on and has helped me a lot.
What are your thoughts on unbreakable ciphers?
My thoughts are best summed up in a little rule of thumb that will eventually (if not already) be posted up above in a short article: for every key there is a lockpick. If the key does not exist, then the cipher is useless and cannot even be broke open (without much hard work) by the people that made it to begin with. If the key does exist, it can be found or worked around. Anywhere from physically taking the notes from the cryptographer to finding their algorithm by some sort of induction.
I have a cipher that I want you to solve, smart aleck! Or, I have a cipher I can't crack, wanna help?
If you want to send me something ciphered and see if I can break it, then I welcome the experience. For the most part, though, I make no claims about being any sort of genius cryptanalyst. I am better than the average bear, but then a good number are. I will probably fail at anything too hard. It is good fun to try, though, so feel free.
I used to play with secret codes and ciphers all the time. It was a fascination of mine back in the fifth/fourth grade. Troy Jenkins and I would spend hours coming up with cheap little codes, transpositions, substitutions and routes and would write notes. Nine times on the ten, the notes were just an excuse to play around with our real interest, and that was a sense of power we got from having that secret. I do not remember if any were taken up. I am sure, if they were, we were probably forced to break our code in front of the class. I do not recall ever having to do this, so I assume the code was unnecessary. Most of the notes merely said things like "Wow, this is in code!", anyhow.
At that time, our biggest achievements were nulls (the most common, we would write anywhere from 2-5 fake letters for every real) and transpositions. We tried some substitutions, but those tended to be cumbersome to make and share.
I recall frustration, at the time, because if we tried bringing someone into our loop, they would always go the old route of "is it unbreakable?" and would generally treat anything that wasn't provably unbreakable as though it was trash. At best, they would throw out their ideas, often just as cheap or cheaper than some of those Troy and I were brewing, and would simple make it into a pissing contest for bad cryptography.
This is the way that Evergreen goes. It is still a bastion for calling out the clever for being clever, and attacking them for trying something new. Had Troy and I came across one official book on cryptography, had one adult did more than smile and show us the flaws in our system and say we were no good at it, had anything like a computer class actually taught the basics of security instead of simple counting programs, there is a chance that Troy would be alive today. As "left field" as that sounds, he was a smart boy who grew into a smart man, but was always treated as the smartass and disregarded by his peers as trying to show them up. He went into the military, he once said, because one day he would be able to go college and learn things. I miss him, a lot, and always will. I also miss the sheer excitement of saying "I AM BORED" as "IPXADRMOPBCMOWRFDEDLDBH" and having that little secret."
This page is dedicated to my friend, and hopefully some little kid will do the same thing with their friend, and maybe their cleverness will be rewarded instead of mocked.
Written by W Doug Bolden
For those wishing to get in touch, you can contact me in a number of ways
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".
"The hidden is greater than the seen."