Code Cracking at the C.I.A. — Maybe They Should Call the N.S.A.?

200px-cryptonomicon_1stedWired reports that a sculpture at the C.I.A. has a sculpture made of copper with a code that so far has not been cracked. The artist James Sanborn created Kryptos which sits in a space that no one can see. Nonetheless, the encoded text from the sculpture is available here. It has been twenty years since the sculpture was installed. Now here is the part I love. There is a subculture of people trying to break the code.

The C.I.A. released the code to the world and it seems that many cryptographers have attacked the code. Three sections, K1, K2, and K3 have been decoded but that took seven years (the article has a picture of the code and the key). The last bit of code, K4, however, has yet to be deciphered. Apparently the artist, Sanborn, received some cryptography training from Ed Scheidt, former head of Langley’s Cryptographic Center. But Sanborn is the only one who knows about the key.

The stories of many people trying to crack the code including changing jobs to have more time to work on it and a 1300 member Yahoo! group are wild. The article also details the frustration people feel at Sanborn for not sharing the code and the on-going dance where would-be code breakers follow Sanborn’s statements for clues and suggest Da Vinci Code style theories (a picture of a piece of the sculpture is on the book cover. (An oh here is a good one for the IP minded: Dan Brown has indicated that he wants to use the sculpture as part of a book about the C.I.A. God help us all.) Whether Sanborn will ever give up the code is unclear, and he hints that he may not.

Maybe we’ll be lucky and Neal Stephenson will write a Cryptonomicon sequel that beats Brown and solves K4.

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