Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Month: September 2012 (Page 1 of 6)

Uncovering the Unknown

The main reason for the Beale ciphers being so incredibly enduring and tough to crack is because they require a unique keytext such as a book or letter. This allows the cryptographer to be limitlessly creative in the construction of a keytext. It could be a personal letter or a well-known book. The motivation that some cryptanalysts still have to break the Beale ciphers comes from both intrinsic motivation and gain of wealth and fame. The feeling of breaking such a difficult cipher can give people a rush of self-satisfaction which can be enough to motivate anyone. Uncovering this cipher could bring joy to a true cryptoanalyst.There are also the gold, silver, and jewels involved which would advance the wealth of a code breaker.

The Allure of Money and Fame

The main reason that I believe people still pursuing Beale's treasure because of the obvious reasons:fame and fortune. The allure of millions of dollars worth of gold laying around somewhere in Virginia is just too strong a temptation for most people to ignore, and those with the means and drive to actively search for it are going to because for most people, the outcome of finding the treasure is worth the effort. In addition to the monetary value of the treasure, claiming the Beale Treasure would result in fame across the country, the person that solved it would hailed as a modern Benjamin Gates (National Treasure, Nicholas Cage). The temptation of these two strong drive forces are powerful enough to get many people started, and the sensation that they are on the verge of discovering the treasure, much like the sensations a gambler feels when he hits a rough patch in his betting, is what keeps them at it.

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What is it all worth?

The Beale Ciphers have remained unsolved for over a hundred years, yet thousands of people have tried to interpret its hidden meaning.  The code has never been cracked due to a very complex number cipher as well as the possibility that the cipher text has been altered, making it forever impossible to crack.  The main reason that people would persist in trying to solve the cipher was for the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”  The “pot of gold” literally was a stockpile of gold worth over $20 million, found by Beale and his crew.  Even now, when there is almost no chance of the treasures remaining undisturbed, scholars continue to work on trying to break the Beale ciphers.  These people are not in search of monetary gain, but instead a challenge to attempt to complete.

Image: "Puzzle," Ryan Amos, Flickr (CC)

Motivation Behind Cracking the Beale Ciphers

In my opinion, I think the main reason people are still trying to break the Beale Cipher is based on the 20 million dollars worth in gold that is supposedly buried. Money can make people do crazy things and people often won't think about the thousands of other people that have tried and failed and the chance that there is no treasure to be found! Along with the fact that so much money is at stake, the second cipher was cracked using the Declaration of Independence so people probably feel like there is hope. If none of the three ciphers were cracked then less people would try probably. Some other people probably want to crack the code out of pure pride. Since so many people have tried and didn't succeed, then if the cryptography world would give them a lot of respect.

Image "Fishpool gold coins" by Lawrence OP, Flickr (CC)

The Motivation of Mystery

The Beale Ciphers have challenged thousands of cryptanalysts for the past hundred years.  The Beale Ciphers consist of three ciphers and are seemingly unbreakable.  While most professionals would give up after several unsuccessful attempts, people still continue to try and break them.  The ciphers remain a mystery while hiding a very rewarding treasure.  The motivation to break these ciphers may simply lie in the wealth one could acquire if they cracked the ciphers.  However, the human mind is very curious, and with each uncovered step, our curiosity increases.  The Beale Ciphers possess a lure due to the fact that one of the ciphers has already been broken.  This has provided hope for current professionals and amateurs, making them believe that the key can be found.  On the other hand, history has shown that even the most difficult ciphers (i.e. the Great cipher) can be cracked.  People still attempt to break them because the fame associated with such a discovery would be equally as rewarding. Ultimately, these factors have kept the Beale Ciphers under constant scrutiny to this day, despite how difficult they are to solve.

Image "Keyhole" by StudioTempura, Flickr (CC)

The Temptation of the Beale Ciphers

The $20 million treasure of the Beale ciphers immediately grabs the attention of any amateur or professional cryptanalyst. The sheer amount of money involved with the Beale ciphers serves as the main attraction for those who want to break the cipher. In addition to monetary gain, the cryptanalyst who breaks the cipher will become famous, unlike the cryptanalysts who work in secretive military settings. As more people attempt to break the cipher and fail, the recognition and potential fame increase. The combination of money and fame is reason enough to try to pursue the solution of the Beale ciphers. However, an aspect of human nature also pushes people to try to crack the cipher. People naturally believe that they might notice a clue or hint that has been overlooked by others. They might see themselves as more cunning or clever, and therefore more capable of breaking the cipher. Also, because the second message has already been uncovered, the idea that the cipher is breakable exists. People naturally assume that the other two can be solved because one of the ciphers has already been solved. A more uncommon reason why someone might decide to pursue the cipher might be to try his/her luck. If the ciphers were viewed as a lottery, the person that happens to stumble upon the text used to create the cipher would colloquially “hit the jackpot.”

Image: "here's hoping," by Robert Donovan, Flickr (CC)

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The Motivation Behind Beale's Mystery

Contradictory to the recurring theme of cryptography, it seems as though a certain cipher shall remain impervious to the demystifying test of time. After 100 years of collective effort from professional and amateur cryptanalysts alike, the enticing Beale cipher continues to serve its cryptic purpose. Ironically, its renowned success in befuddling hundreds, if not thousands, of cryptanalysts has in turn attracted additional challengers up to the task of deciphering Beale’s $20 million message. While some cast doubt upon the letter’s authenticity, and others argue that given its authenticity the cipher may never be discovered, the puzzle continually baits the public’s fruitless efforts. But why try where so many others have failed?

Firstly, there exists a tangible reward of considerable value. The treasure as described by Beale is now estimated at a jaw-dropping $20 million – a lucrative reward for solving a single puzzle. Monetary compensation, however, seems a fanciful outcome given the chances that someone might have already discovered the cipher along with the money, or just as simply stumbled across the hidden treasure throughout the course of 100 years. Furthermore, money hardly stands as the driving force behind the efforts of professional intellectuals who presumably practice cryptography for the mystery rather than reward.

Therefore, we may assume that the attraction of a mystery, in most cases, is the mystery itself. Aside from the fame and whatever tangible compensation one receives from unwinding a mystery, personal satisfaction is the main reward. Mysteries lure by way of promising intellectual gratification and abatement of curiosity. Hundreds flock to the Beale ciphers not only for the possibility of gaining fortune, but for the sake of solution, and making order of the problematic, organized chaos that is cryptographic encryption. The Beale cipher presents a formidably reputable puzzle, and there will always be challenger driven by the curiosity of human nature.

Deciphering the Beale Ciphers

Although the Beale Ciphers have continually eluded cryptanalysts, they remain a hot topic of interest. There are two possible reasons for the persisting enthusiasm to decrypt the mysterious ciphers. The first is that cryptanalysts are, by nature, drawn to solving puzzles. The harder the puzzle, the more rewarding it is when they finally manage to reveal its content, and the less they can resist the urge to do so. An additional factor is the fame and recognition associated with deciphering such an elusive piece of history. The second reason lies in the content of the message. Cryptanalysts are likely motivated to decipher the text by their desire to access the treasure it describes. Both these reasons have caused many people to dedicate their lives to this so-far futile pursuit.

Beale Cipher Continues to Confound Cryptographers

The Beale Cipher has, for many years, stumped the best and brightest cryptographers in their quest to not only decipher the text, but also discover the treasure behind it. Despite years of unsuccessful attempts to decipher the complex cryptography, many cryptanalysts continue to analyze the cipher Beale created. The fruitless efforts of many analysts must have a much deeper cause than a simple search for treasure.

The enigma of the Beale Cipher drives cryptanalysts to further pursue its deciphering. The motivation comes from the mystery that lies behind its message and its key. A sort of reverse psychology plays a role in its mystery. The cipher has been deemed unattainable to any that have tried it; yet, the inherit inability to solve it motivates other cryptanalysts to try and break it. Just as children who are told they should not touch the stove do it anyways, cryptanalysts regard the difficulty of the cipher not as a warning, but as a challenge.

In an attempt to define the motivation behind cryptanalysts' quest, one must also consider our ever changing world. Each day, new technology emerges, developments in research are made, and new masterpieces are created. With this constantly developing society comes the social drive to outdo others' achievements. While no one has yet solved the Beale cipher, cryptanalysts see the challenge as an opportunity to outdo their peers, using the technological advancements of today to drive their discovery.

Image "Bound to Make the Connection" by Jackson, Flickr (CC)

Sense of Nonsense

It is amazing to think that in the current age there are still mysteries waiting to be sovled. The progress of science has made so many advances and solved so many problems that it seems almost as if there can't be any mysteries left. Amazingly, after 100 years, the Beale ciphers have remained an uncrackable mystery. Considering the amount of resources, time, and manpower that has been spent on this two page cipher, it's very reasonable to say that if it hasn't been cracked by now, it might not ever be. Even though hundreds of people have tried, failed, and wasted years of their lives on this one cipher, people still believe that they will be the one person to figure out the mystery. The easiest explanation of this drive is simply greed. The one page of the Beale cipher that was decrypted referred to a buried treasure worth over $20 million. That amount of money is tempting to any person, treasure hunter or not. Though the dollar sum itself is motivation, there is also another part to mysteries that drives people's need to figure them out. The human brain is naturally curious, and when things don't make sense we want to find a way to make sense of it. The desire to organize this chaotic world is why humans like to imagine the outline of a snake or a bear in the stars when they are really just randomly placed dots of light. Naturally contradictory, people at the same time love the mystery and suspense of a hidden buried treasure and love to make sense of nonsense. Though the Beale ciphers might really be impossible to crack, there will never be a shortage of people working to be that one person who solves yet another mystery of this world.

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