While exploring Elonka Dunin’s website, I came across her list of “Famous Unsolved Codes and Ciphers.” I thought that this section was particularly interesting because we have read about some of the ciphers or codes in class, and it fascinates me that despite the copious amount of technological and historical resources that we have at our hands, impenetrable ciphers and codes still exist.
Elonka ranked the unsolved codes and ciphers based on their “fame,” which she determined by how many times they appeared in articles or how many “hits” they had on Google. The first cipher she listed was the Beale Cipher, which we read about in The Code Book by Simon Singh. The Beale Ciphers include three documents that detail the location of a secret treasure, which according to Singh is worth $20 million by today’s standards. One of the papers has been solved, which is how knowledge of this hidden treasure first came about; however, the other two papers, which apparently hold the secret to the treasure’s location, remain unsolved.
We discussed in class how despite the Beale cipher’s impenetrability, its mystery provides incredible intrigue for cryptographers. The desire to crack the cipher will live on for some time. Elonka says on her website that there have been many “claimed solutions” (which she provides a link to), as well as speculation that the entire thing is a hoax. Both were points brought up in class, and I thought it was really interesting to see firsthand accounts, provided by Elonka, of individuals attempting to break the cipher.
At the bottom of the page, Elonka also includes a list of “Famous Unsolved Codes That Have Since Been Solved.” It is fascinating that codes and ciphers that were once determined impenetrable were later solved. I believe that this is the reason why many still have hope for ciphers such as the Beale Cipher. If Edgar Allen Poe’s Cryptographic Challenge ciphers were broken after 150 years, why can’t the Beale Cipher?