Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: motivation

I Don't Care.

The best security measures in the world, even the seemingly flawless and fool-proof of systems, can be beaten by the simplest of things: the failing to enforce it.

In Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, there was a point in which Marcus received an email from some followers who were caught jamming by some cops. However, after waiting to be interrogated in one a prison truck, they were released after a new shift of cops decided that they had "better things to do than bother [them] with more questions."

Isn't this so telling of our relationship with technology? It is the whole "Technology is only as good as the person using it" argument all over again. If someone somewhere along the chain of command decides that he/she doesn't care, the whole system goes down the drains.

This is also evident in other historical cryptographic events as well. The Enigma machine was cracked partially due to the fact that cryptographers got lazy. They had predictable language and sometimes even predictable keys (e.g. initials of loved ones). Without these, the Enigma could have been "uncrackable" for a much longer time.

This story from the book also interests me because it discusses human motivation in an almost real-world setting. Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." The DHS did not properly motivate their employees to ensure that they would follow through with their commands which led to failure in this situation. People will only go so far for so long when listening to orders before they give up. This can be due to any number of reasons. In one scene, when Marcus invited Ange over to use the XBox and chill for the evening, Ange points out one of these reasons and notes that Marcus's "only weapon is [his] ability to make [the DHS] look like morons." She points out that in order to derail the DHS, Marcus needs to undermine the motivation of the DHS to continue what they were doing.

 

Fear: a powerful motivator

German’s overconfidence in their “unbreakable” enigma machine surely contributed to the Allied cryptanalysts’ victorious over German cryptographers. At the same time, other key driving forces that might have enormously contributed to the success of the Allied cryptanalysts were their consistent sense of insecurity and fear of being defeated in the war.

While the allied first laid back and lost their cryptanalytic zeal believing that Germany was no longer a threat, Poland, as a newly formed independent state, realized the danger of being in between Russia and Germany and therefore, at the time, any information regarding the two enemies was highly valued by the Poland cryptographers. The Poles tried everything they could to attempt to make a progress, including forming a new cipher bureau, employing a clairvoyant and paying to make Schmidt turn traitor to German to provide the information for the Allied to create a replica of the Enigma machine.

Similarly, after Poland shared Rejewski’s bombes with the Allied, the Bletchley Park was formed and the continuous evolvement of the enigma machine motivated this group of talented people to keep taking risks, being creative, pushing and exploring the boundaries in order to break this seemingly unbreakable enigma machine. They tried to figure out any weakness not only of the enigma machine but also of those who used enigma. With German’s overconfidence and the Allied enormous effort driven by the fear and threat of being kept in the dark from German, eventually Allied cryptanalysts victorious over the German cryptographers and ended the war earlier than it could be.

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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.

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 Mystery of the Unknown


Beale Papers Pamphlet
The Beale Cipher is indeed one of the modern mysteries of cryptography, and the fact that it is mostly unbroken can either mean one of two things: the answer continues to allude the thousands of cryptanalysts and treasure hunters who have tried thus far, or the cipher is indeed faked, and there is no actual solution. If it is indeed the latter and the cipher is a fake, then there is no reason for people to continue. There would be no treasure for the treasure hunters, and there would be no actual solution to find for the people who just want to solve the cipher.

However, the fact is that no one knows for sure whether the cipher is a fake or not, meaning that there is a chance that there is an actual solution, and maybe even an actual treasure.

It is unlikely, however, that at this point in time the actual worth of the treasure has any significant effect on the desire to crack the code, but it is possible. The fact that so many people have failed to crack it means that no one person can really expect to solve it, hence the likelihood they solve the code and find the treasure must be really small. Therefore, the majority of the motivation for looking for the solution is probably just the mystery that surrounds the code, the fact that it is unsolved. These are the types of people who are doing it for fun, because they can. What better reason is there than that.

Image Credit: "Beale Papers" Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

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Motivation for Cracking Ciphers

The Beale Cipher consists of three cipher texts and only one has been cracked throughout the past one hundred years. One of the ciphers allegedly leads to where the treasure of over $20 million is located and the other two texts, one of which has been deciphered, are apparently descriptions of the actual treasure itself. The world’s most clever cryptographers have been trying to decipher the Beale Cipher for years, but it is hard to imagine why they would continue to try. Human beings are naturally curious, thus whether one is trying to decipher the Beale Cipher or a code we receive on our problem set, we strive to figure it out no matter how long it takes. When specifically looking at the motivation for solving the Beale Cipher, the incentive is of course the apparent money reward. By the same token, the glory one would receive if they were to crack the Beale Cipher would make all of their work worth it.

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