Saturday, December 10, 2011

Are you a better codebreaker than the FBI's best?

Originally published 4/01/11 on

Did you read "Encyclopedia Brown" growing up? One of the stories involved Encyclopedia learning to decode the product codes on items in the grocery store. That got me interested in cryptography. I'm still interested, but I've learned that I lack the patience required to be a really good cryptographer. But if you've always had a secret yearning to play secret agent and a desire to one up the FBI, I have just the thing. Michael Cooney of the "Layer 8" blog at Networkworld reports that the FBI is seeking help decrypting some notes found on the body of a murdered man in 1999.

This isn't an April Fools joke. The FBI has placed images of the notes here. If you like decoding those cryptograms in the Sunday paper you might give it a shot. The FBI's experts haven't been able to in 12 years, but right now they're hoping a fresh set of eyes and a different way of looking at the problem will work where experts haven't. They are also hoping that someone may be able to show them samples of similar code.

One interesting aspect of this code is that it may have been a code the victim had been using since he was a child. That made me wonder if maybe this isn't a code, but a language that was developed over 30 years or more. Maybe the FBI is looking for the wrong thing.

The FBI story is here.


Edited @ 11:09 to remove comment tags hiding some of the text.