From the development of language and communication there has been the need to restrict those who receive this information from those you would choose not to share it with. This was the beginnings of encryption, a method of disguising the information, so that only you and the desired recipient knows what it written. Many ingenious methods have been employed, some for the purposes of war and others used to scam or to just confuse. This week’s New Scientist explores “Unbreakable” 1; a set of articles discussing unbroken codes and ciphers. It is a fascinating look at a variety of codes which have remained unbroken, even in the face of sophisticated analytical software and computer algorithms designed to break the most complex ciphers. One of the most famous code machines, the Enigma machine still has many codes which have remained unbroken, the article discusses how the codes are created and how modern code breakers that are taking on the challenge in the hope of finally decoding them. More disturbing is the still undeciphered message left by a serial killer during the 1960’s who became known as the ‘Zodiac killer’ 2, where even modern attempts to decode the messages have failed. What is fascinating is that these codes have grabbed the imagination of people through out the generations and the ingenuity of the creators has inspired many more people to follow in their footsteps, both in designing new codes and in developing ways to crack them, this has lead to a competitive one-upmanship, in so doing leading to safer encryption for online communications and maintaining personal privacy.
The book Codes, Ciphers, Secrets and Cryptic Communication 3 is a wonderful read for anyone interested in codes and ciphers. It discusses the history of early attempts at encryption and examines how these have evolved over time and to cope with different challenged from advancing decryption methods. It explored a variety of different unbroken codes and why they have been so successful, as well as why many are likely to simply be fakes because there structure is consistent with that of nonsense. It is a wonderful book, written in a lively style and with plenty of explanations and examples. The reader gains a firm understanding how the different types of encryption work and can have a go at designing their own coded messages.
E Markham (2011). Cryptic Codes Blogspot