The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: Beale Cipher Uncracked treasure

Leave the Treasure Hunting to Nicolas Cage

The Beale Ciphers are unbreakable and I believe that is the sole purpose of their existence. I think it’s a great story about a mysterious man with a buried treasure worth millions of dollars. But I also think it’s an absolute hoax. I agree with the point Singh made about the Beale Ciphers being created to exploit the greed of people. That makes sense to me. I believe that people still attempt to break the Beale Ciphers as a way to gain notoriety of their intellect and to establish a personal legacy associated with fortune and fame. 

Personally, I see treasure hunting as a naive and played out concept of success and failure with the redemption of it all coming when all the clues are aligned and the treasure is found after years of digging. What I believe motivates people trying to crack the Beale Ciphers is narcissism, the idea that nobody’s been able to break the cipher because nobody is like me and nobody thinks the way I do. Treasure hunting does make for a great story in the cases of Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and National Treasure but those are all fabricated adventures that all rely on the luck and cunning of storybook protagonists who have their fabricated lives dependent on the adventure and the rewards of finding buried treasures. All in all, treasure hunting is better left to the silver screen and swashbuckling pirates of yesteryear, not for amateurs and professionals with an ignorance to reality.

Why are the Beale Ciphers so Enticing?

The Beale ciphers are a mystery. No one truly knows if the treasure is real or fabricated. The book said that “Skeptics believe that the entire story was fabricated to profit from the greed of others.” Even though the story may possibly be a hoax, people will not stop trying to decrypt the message. One reason why people are still trying to decrypt the message is the reward. Twenty million dollars is a large amount of money, and some people will do whatever they can to get their hands on it. Greed can motivate people to do outrageous things, that includes solving an extremely difficult encryption.

Being acknowledged is another reason why people are still trying to break the ciphers. If I was to somehow be able to decode the Beale ciphers, the money would be amazing, but I want the acknowledgment that comes with it. It is a dream of mine to be recognized for my efforts, and I believe that others feel the same. If I was to crack a code that has not been broken in around two hundred years, I would be filled with pride. Solving encryptions takes luck, logic, and creativity. If a person was to decipher the Beale ciphers, they would feel accomplished for all of the work that they had to do to solve it since it is not an easily breakable cipher. I believe that the treasure has already been found either by luck or deciphering the encryption. According to the book, conspiracy theorists believe that the treasure has been found by the NSA. It is very likely that the treasure is not real, but people still want to solve it to get recognition.

Unsolved Codes and Ciphers

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?

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.

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