The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

The Cyrillic Projector: Forums by the People for the People

In addition to the intriguing Kryptos sculpture, Sanborn has produced numerous other sculptures that have fans and amateur cryptanalysts from around the world working together. Elonka has created an entire webpage dedicated to a transcript and discussion of the Cyrillic Projector.  With the help of a series of pictures taken by Randall Bollig, she was able to type up a transcript of the codes on the projector in order for people to have easier access to the information. This has allowed many people to put their heads together so that they can hopefully solve the previously intact cipher.

Much like the combined powers of the great minds in Room 40 and Bletchley park, Elonka’s online forum allows cryptanalysts from across the globe to work together to break through these ciphers. Obviously these people are working to crack the codes because they enjoy doing so—and not because there are lives and national intelligence at stake. If this type of forum existed during the wars, would it have benefited or hindered attempts to encode and decode messages? It would certainly increase the size of think tanks by enabling them to communicate without being physically present, but the easy access to information on the internet would have made it much easier for other powers to catch on to what exactly cryptanalysts were doing. If the technology existed back then, would forums like Elonka’s have been useful in cryptanalyst efforts?


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1 Comment

  1. Derek

    That’s a fascinating question. There were many people involved in codebreaking efforts during World War Two–over ten thousand at Bletchley Park, according to the Bletchley Park Roll of Honour–so we’ve seen military cryptography on a pretty massive scale. But how many of those people were working directly on cryptanalysis?

    Elonka has taken something of a crowdsourcing approach to cryptography, something like the New York Public Library “What’s on the Menu?” project or the Polymath Project. It’s certainly interesting to think about how military crypto efforts might use these crowdsourcing techniques.

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