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Encryption Government

Sculptor Gives a Hint For CIA's Kryptos 151

omega_cubed writes "The New York Times reports that Jim Sanborn, the sculptor who created the wavy metal pane called Kryptos that sits in front of the CIA in Langley, VA, has gotten tired of waiting for code-breakers to decode the last of the four messages. 'I assumed the code would be cracked in a fairly short time,' [Sanborn] said, adding that the intrusions on his life from people who think they have solved his fourth puzzle are more than he expected. So now, after 20 years, Mr. Sanborn is nudging the process along. He has provided The New York Times with the answers to six letters in the sculpture's final passage. The characters that are the 64th through 69th in the final series on the sculpture read NYPVTT. When deciphered, they read BERLIN."
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Sculptor Gives a Hint For CIA's Kryptos

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  • Shucks! (Score:5, Funny)

    by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @09:02PM (#34294706) Homepage
    All this time I thought it said "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      Why do they call it Ovaltine? The mug is round. The jar is round. They should call it Roundtine. That's gold, Jerry! Gold!

      • Re:Shucks! (Score:4, Informative)

        by PatPending ( 953482 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @10:10PM (#34295110)

        Why do they call it Ovaltine? The mug is round. The jar is round. They should call it Roundtine.

        Blame US Customs []:

        The story of OVALTINE®, or should we say Ovomaltine, begins in 1904. Ovomaltine was originally developed in Switzerland as a recovery drink for skiers returning from a long, active day. (For some reason it was never poured into little kegs and hung on the necks of St. Bernards for roaming the Alps.)

        As it grew from a recovery drink into a popular chocolatey beverage, Ovomaltine decided to see the world. When it went through customs, however, a printing error forever changed the name of the chocolatey treat. And the world was introduced to OVALTINE. (Our thanks go out to customs!)

        Of course, if this had happened today, it would be called... OBAMATINE

        • Why do/did they call it Ovomaltine?

        • by Cinder6 ( 894572 )

          Well, that sure got changed for the better. Old name sounded too much like "OVUM-altine", which gives weird and creepy connotations. 'Course, maybe I'm parsing it wrong.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            No, you're not parsing it wrong at all. Ovum = egg. It has (had?) eggs in it. So you had it quite right. But just in case: we ARE referring to chicken eggs.
            • by Cinder6 ( 894572 )

              I sense a -5: Redundant in my future! Anyways, I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't picture chicken egges when they hear "ovum", hence my continued horror at the name.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          A similar story is allegedly behind the cosmetics product line which in different countries are named "Oil of Olay" / "Olaz" / "Ulay" / "Ulan".
          The story is that when first exporting it to Europe, the representative typed in the name on a German QWERTZ keyboard, and Olay became Olaz. After that, the company decided to do the cat thing[*], and gave it a new name for the next couple of countries.

          [*]: You know, pretend it skid into the wall intentionally, and is just fine, thank you.

          (And in the bad spirit of

        • I'd call that a fortuitous error. Who would buy a drink which includes a series of letters strikingly similar to "vomit?"

          • by foxylad ( 950520 )

            Good point. I always thought the same about Vimto (a fizzy drink popular in the UK) - either the inventor was spectacularly bad at anagrams, or they had a wicked sense of humour.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by hey! ( 33014 )

      "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine. There are starving children in Berlin who'd do anything for a nice glass of Ovaltine like that."

    • by rs79 ( 71822 )

      Wait, how does the sculptor know? Did they give him the plaintext and say "oh, btw, here's the ci[her you have to use, we want it encrypted".

      Is he a sculptor that did a lot of "commissions" in South America and Eastern Europe?

  • Oh, I see some may have to play this "game" with the NYT's URL:

    Add '&r=2' to the end of the URL.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 20, 2010 @09:18PM (#34294796)

    If you do, the[NO CARRIER]

  • They aren't code crackers. That's the NSA's job. The CIA assassinates people, and uses very expensive satellites to watch weenie-roasts in countries you can't pronounce, which are started with very large heavy metal cans and ended very suddenly with a bang and a cheer. They also made the CIA World Factbook... which in my humble opinion may be the only thing they've done for the internet that was useful.

    So lay off on them being given a really complex soduku in their backyard and then being upset because they

    • A couple of questions then:

      1. Since it's contrary to the CIA's mission, why was it installed in the first place? (It should have went to NSA instead.)

      2. Someone in authority at CIA knew what all the messages were ahead of time, right? Otherwise they risked the possibility of one (or more) of the messages being damaging in some way.

      • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Saturday November 20, 2010 @10:02PM (#34295064) Homepage

        The US government used to work hard to keep the NSA out of the public eye. Though the existence of the organization wasn't a total secret, press coverage wasn't welcome at all until after September 11. I remember when I arrived at Defense Language Institute in late 1999 as a fresh Navy recruit, some among my supervisors, old hands in SIGINT and some of whom had served at Ft. Mead itself, were very upset at the recent Baltimore Sun coverage of DLI and the NSA. "The public doesn't need to know any of what we do."

        Also, the CIA's spies had to use encryption. Their lives depended on it, and the organization grew out of earlier military units concerned with cryptography and codebreaking.

        So when it came to putting up a monument like this, one that would attract the public to figure out its secrets, better to put it outside the CIA's headquarters, because by this point the existence and general purpose of the CIA was known to everyone.

        • And they all have code breakers, this includes the CIA and FBI.

        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The US government used to work hard to keep the NSA out of the public eye. Though the existence of the organization wasn't a total secret, press coverage wasn't welcome at all until after September 11.

          The existence of the organization was not only not a total secret, but no secret at all. Who ever wanted to know would have easily learned about the NSA years before because it was very much visible in things like the skipjack encryption of the clipper chip (1993, []). It

        • Not just better, but also more appropriate. The NSA and its purposes have been corrupted; best that it go away entirely.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

            Not just better, but also more appropriate. The NSA and its purposes have been corrupted; best that it go away entirely.

            And the CIA is a factory which produces rainbows and puppies?

    • by warGod3 ( 198094 )
      Does it matter? There are 16 government intelligence agencies. Supposedly the CIA is the only independent agency. NSA and NRO report to the DOD, plus all the other agencies report to various departments (mainly DOD), but there are representatives from DOE, DHS, DOJ, etc...
      I'm sure that you can try to pigeonhole various agencies and say that their function is x, but even though all those agencies fall under the same umbrella as part of the US intelligence community, the sharing of information between agenc
  • by Beardydog ( 716221 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @09:22PM (#34294822)
    "Why hasn't anyone solved my one-time pad encrypted puzzle?"
    • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @09:46PM (#34294964)

      They have: []

      The Soviet planners were so impressed with one-time pads that decided that they needed to be copied:

      Somebody who was working for the manufacturers of Soviet secret-communication materials had reused pages of some of the "one-time" pads in other "one-time" pads, which were then used for other secret messages. This defeated the purpose of the one-time pad, which provides ideal security when each page is used exactly once and then disposed of.

      The article continues:

      It is unclear as to why this fatal mistake was made, or by whom.

      I would guess that he, who made the mistake, is pushing up the daisies in Siberia now . . .

      • I heard this mentioned on a Discovery Channel special once. It blamed the typists, whom it said were tasked with the random number generation.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by alchemy101 ( 961551 )
      Poor sculptor actually, since Sanborn chopped off a letter in one of the codes to make it more aesthetically pleasing but as a result led everyone to an incorrect answer [] for one of the puzzles
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Because it's so easy to decrypt a one-time pad encrypted message, it's boring.

      What, you say *my* plaintext doesn't match the message in the ciphertext? Well, that's what *you* say.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Ich bin ein Berliner"

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by JustOK ( 667959 )

      you are a Jelly-Filled Doughnut?

    • No, no, it's nothing about Cold War tensions in Germany, it's a quote from Irving Berlin.

  • Intrusions? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lewah ( 1785074 )

    Not to say that the geeks don't geek, but c'mon... what intrusions? My guess: he just wanted someone to care again.

  • When deciphered, they read BERLIN.

    "Ich bin ein Berliner!"

    In Soviet East Berlin, Erich Honecker eats your jelly doughnut!"

    And James Jesus Angelton provided the orchids from his private garden. I am still kicking myself for not attending a book signing session by Markus Wolf, that took place near where I live . . . hell, then I could claim, "I saw the face, of the man without a face!"

    A real cryptographer would have written something on the side of his notes saying, "Oh, I have found a really simple solution for this cipher, but I don't ha

    • Well, if nothing else, thank you for the tour through Cold War spymasters. Schabowski deserves a dozen medals for what he did for humanity, even if it was inadvertent.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I was going to do a funny parody of Leonard Cohen's serious parody of our Cold War adversaries (unfortunately, "Berlin" gets you only to the mid-30s character-wise), but the first line of the song and the timing of the NYT article jumped right out at me.

    There's no crypto behind this guess. Just a leap of intuition from a reference to Webster to King Tut. And the fact that Cohen's First We Take Manhattan was published in 1988, which would have been current around the time the puzzle was being designed fo

  • by dohzer ( 867770 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @09:47PM (#34294970) Homepage

    N = B
    Y = E
    P = R
    V = L
    T = I
    T = N (if it's preceded by another 'T'),

    It shouldn't take too long to solve now.

    • 53305))6*;4826)4.)4);806*;488

      I love cryptography ... and I love cryptography thanks to Edgar Allan. I was obsessed with The Gold Bug as a kid. That got me into cryptography, which eventually got me into programming. Now, get me Jupiter, we have work to do :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SEE ( 7681 )

      Remember to ID by rows.

  • The first three pieces of the puzzle were just very simple, basic, textbook hand-cyphers - two were Vigenère and one was a Transposition cipher - and it took them that long to do the first three - and the last one remains unsolved.

    You'd think that with people from the CIA and NSA - they'd be able crack these things with their eyes closed.

    It doesn't give me a lot of confidence that the government could crack anything strong than the ciphers encoded by a Capt'n Crunch decoder wheel...

    Furthermore -

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 20, 2010 @10:15PM (#34295142)

      Nothing sad about this. It just illustrates that cryptanalysis is very hard when there's not enough context.

      In other words, you too can keep your messages secret for 20 years if you (1) keep your messages short and seemingly random, and (2) don't reuse the same cypher.

      The three letter agencies have a better chance of decoding the Voynich manuscript than this statue, simply because there's more to analyze in the manuscript.

      • Why try? (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Nothing sad about this. It just illustrates that cryptanalysis is very hard when there's not enough context.

        Not only that, but there's little incentive to solve these cyphers. It's not like he's hiding a Swiss bank account or ICBM launch codes.
        The best a cracker could expect would be some kudos and maybe a job offer.
        Not something anyone is going to spend supercomputer time on or build a botnet to crack.

    • the ciphers encoded by a Capt'n Crunch decoder wheel...

      Holy Draper, CryptoMan, now everyone knows about that.

      Its a lyric by Irving Berliner.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by arth1 ( 260657 )

      A large part of the problem is that the sculptor wasn't meticulous enough, and introduced _errors_ to the cyphertexts. That makes the decryption all the more complicated, because you have to brute-force all the possible errors he could have made and try each of them against your proposed solution. For a linear encryption scheme, you can find out where the errors are and cut down on the time, but for a matrix type encryption, even if you had the key and the cipher, you will get gibberish out with a single

  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @09:59PM (#34295038) Homepage Journal

    I remember a night we walked along the Seine riding on the metro

  • William H. Webster owes me $20. I TOLD him it was the lyrics to "Take My Breath Away"!

  • by Dracos ( 107777 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @10:18PM (#34295164)

    I'm not familiar with Kryptos, and I'm not one for cryptography. We know there are (at least) two layers here, the encryption and the resulting riddle. Obviously Sanborn is being coy.

    The word IQLUSION stood out to me. At face value this seems to be a misspelling of illusion, but also obvious is the beginning IQ: intelligence quotient. If that is abbreviated to intelligence, and you read through the rest, you get intelligence illusion. Perhaps a reference to counter-intelligence? This is Langley, after all.

    Maybe this is old news, or nothing, or part of the second layer riddle. Just something I thought of after a few minutes. I didn't have any insight about UNDERGRUUND, though.

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      He intentionally misspelled some words to confuse cryptographers and not make it too simple.

  • First we take Manhattan []
    Then we take Berlin!

    (Kick-ass song, btw.)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That's not the least bit helpful. Everyone knew those letters were Berlin. If only he had told us whether it is Irving, East, or New Hampshire.

  • by MagicM ( 85041 )

    So Solution 2 gives some coordinates that identify a point near the sculpture [], yet I can't find any mention of anyone taking a shovel to that location.

    Has anyone been out there rooting around in the dirt?

    The answer has to be a blindingly obvious "yes", but the internet fails to give me that answer...

  • Misdirection ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rollgunner ( 630808 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @03:57AM (#34296426)
    The guy is a cryptographer... I'd consider "Berlin" as being both a clue *and* a misdirection.

    The message might well read something like : rememBER LINcoln's birthplace...
  • They need to maintain a facade of incompetence so their opponents will continue to underestimate them.

  • I just have to say, shouldn't the CIA be just a tad bit embarrassed that they can't crack a piece of artwork that they commissioned and sits right in their own damn courtyard?

    • Re:just wondering (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ledow ( 319597 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @12:13PM (#34298448) Homepage

      Nope. The greatest fool can ask a question that the wisest man cannot answer.

      It's incredible easy to make a cipher so convulated and impractical (e.g. encode by the phase of the moon determined by the fourteenth character, then transpose all vowels, add up the number of strokes within each letter using the Arial font, multiply those numbers by the number 10 places ahead of it, then look those up on a ceasar cipher) that it's boring and uninteresting to decipher it and pretty much "impossible". Unfortunately, it also becomes incredibly useless as a cipher then because it becomes tedious to communicate using it, and the security of a cipher has nothing to do with its difficulty of encryption or decryption procedure - you'll probably find that a couple of supercomputers could find enough patterns in the above "cipher" that they could find the right answers without having to even KNOW the phase of the moon.

      The thing about mathematical ciphers is that the method is public and yet they are still incredibly difficult to decrypt. This isn't an interesting cipher, mathematically speaking, because the method is closed so it could be anything. All we have is some jumbled text and (presumably) a sensible answer that we're not privy to. It's more a children's puzzle than a cipher, just a very difficult one - because nobody actually uses this cipher to communicate (so the cipher can be unnecessarily complicated without actually being *secure*, the plaintext could well be complete junk, the message may even be erroneously encoded, and there's only a single - non-militarily-important - instance of an encoded text).

      In short - nobody cares. It's like the book-competitions where someone buries treasure and publishes a book which "gives the details" of where it's buried. It's pretty much chance if you find it or not because there is no requirement for the answer to be logical, practical or even decryptable. The one I saw, you had to draw a line from the eye of a character on each artwork-strewn page, through their index finger, to a particular letter in a word on the outside of the page border, then interpret those clues which narrowed things down to an entire field somewhere in the UK - the "winner" was the author's former-flatmate's girlfriend.

      The importance of a ciphered message is more related to its origin, the probability of it being an unintentional leak, the probability of it being militarily important, and other non-mathematical factors. Then, if you have the impetus, running it through a supercomputer with what little you know or (infinitely better) getting a couple more messages that use the same scheme and are likely to reveal commonalities. That's how we beat Engima. This is just a puzzle-book, and quite boring because it can actually just be gibberish and nobody would really care.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by NevDull ( 170554 )

        This is the same reason Lost appealed to the masses, but not the thinking folk -- if you can throw arbitrary impossible bullshit in to "explain" something, it's not really an explanation. It became more like a bunch of kids playing Cops and Robbers with the one kid who decides he's got an alien spacecraft with a freeze ray that he can use at any point to immobilize his enemies. Call it a black swan if you want, but it certainly affects how interesting a story is.

      • by gonz ( 13914 )

        This isn't an interesting cipher, mathematically speaking, because the method is closed so it could be anything. All we have is some jumbled text and (presumably) a sensible answer that we're not privy to. [...] This is just a puzzle-book, and quite boring because it can actually just be gibberish and nobody would really care.

        Err... so how was it possible to decode the other three sections then? Obviously it's not gibberish, it's intelligible English text encoded using familiar algorithms. And people ha

        • by ledow ( 319597 )

          Wow. I think I just touched on the *weirdest* nerve in existence.

          Nobody was talking about the art of the sculpture. And in that respect, why on Earth would anyone really care if the code was "real" so long as it was representative? Also, the sculpture *did* have errors in its transcription - quite serious ones that the sculptor had to admit to - so it was probably never even double-checked as being a valid cipher (and therefore could easily be unsolvable due to a silly, simple transcription mistake). An

  • The fact that the clue had to be "leaked" to the intelligence(?) community, truly seems apropos.
    Wh*n will th*s* p*opl* g*t a clu*?

    Leaked hint: It's a vowel, not a, not i, not o, not u, and not sometimes y.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal