Kryptos: The Unbreakable Encryption Right Under the Nose of the CIA

by September 30, 2013 09/30/13
Kryptos_sculptor_00

In the courtyard of one of our country’s top intelligence facilities, a 10 foot tall s-shaped sculpture stands as a reminder of how even our top minds can be baffled. Have we truly encountered an unbreakable encryption?

Artist and self-acclaimed cryptographer, Jim Sanborn, sculpted Kryptos (a greek word meaning “hidden”) in 1990. He had the help of former CIA employee Ed Scheidt, Chairman of the Cryptographic Center, who was just retiring at the time and aided Sanborn in the multiple cryptographic systems used in Kryptos.

I was first intrigued by Kryptos in 2003, when reading Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. The hardcover dust jacket has two hidden references to it in the artwork. In upside-down script on a small “tear”on the back cover, you can make out “only WW knows,” more about this below. Brown’s 2009 book, The Lost Symbol, also talked about Krpytos in detail.

Breaking Down Kryptos

Kryptos contains nearly 1800 characters etched out of the large copper plate and broken into four sections. The left side of the sculpture contains the code and the right side contain the key.

Kryptos_Transcript_01

Said to contain “a riddle within a riddle,” Sanborn stated that Kryptos would only be solvable after four encrypted passages have been decrypted, K1 thru K4. Three these were solved in 1999 by computer scientist, Jim Gillogly, from Southern California. The CIA went public after Gillogly’s announcement, with information that one of their analysts, David Stein, had solved those three sections in 1998 and they’d kept it internal. It’s now also now known that the NSA beat everyone to the punch by solving it in 1993.

K1 – Polyalphabetic Substution (using a Vigenére tableau)

Keywords: Kryptos, Palimpset

Solution: IT WAS TOTALLY INVISIBLE HOWS THAT POSSIBLE ? THEY USED THE EARTHS MAGNETIC FIELD X THE INFORMATION WAS GATHERED AND TRANSMITTED UNDERGRUUND TO AN UNKNOWN LOCATION X DOES LANGLEY KNOW ABOUT THIS ? THEY SHOULD ITS BURIED OUT THERE SOMEWHERE X WHO KNOWS THE EXACT LOCATION ? ONLY WW THIS WAS HIS LAST MESSAGE X THIRTY EIGHT DEGREES FIFTY SEVEN MINUTES SIX POINT FIVE SECONDS NORTH SEVENTY SEVEN DEGREES EIGHT MINUTES FORTY FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO

The solution mentions these coordinates: 38°57′6.5″N 77°8′44″W The location is just 150 feet southeast of the Kryptos sculpture. WW was confirmed in 2005 by Sanborn to mean former CIA Director William Webster. At the 1990 Kryptos dedication, Sanborn gave an envelope to Webster. Speculation surrounds this to contain the answer to Kryptos, but Sanborn has mentioned it doesn’t contain everything needed to solve it.

K2 – Polyalphabetic Substution (using a Vigenére tableau)

Keywords: Kryptos, Abscissa

Solution: IT WAS TOTALLY INVISIBLE HOWS THAT POSSIBLE ? THEY USED THE EARTHS MAGNETIC FIELD X THE INFORMATION WAS GATHERED AND TRANSMITTED UNDERGRUUND TO AN UNKNOWN LOCATION X DOES LANGLEY KNOW ABOUT THIS ? THEY SHOULD ITS BURIED OUT THERE SOMEWHERE X WHO KNOWS THE EXACT LOCATION ? ONLY WW THIS WAS HIS LAST MESSAGE X THIRTY EIGHT DEGREES FIFTY SEVEN MINUTES SIX POINT FIVE SECONDS NORTH SEVENTY SEVEN DEGREES EIGHT MINUTES FORTY FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO

K3 – Transposition Cipher

Solution: SLOWLY DESPARATLY SLOWLY THE REMAINS OF PASSAGE DEBRIS THAT ENCUMBERED THE LOWER PART OF THE DOORWAY WAS REMOVED WITH TREMBLING HANDS I MADE A TINY BREACH IN THE UPPER LEFT HAND CORNER AND THEN WIDENING THE HOLE A LITTLE I INSERTED THE CANDLE AND PEERED IN THE HOT AIR ESCAPING FROM THE CHAMBER CAUSED THE FLAME TO FLICKER BUT PRESENTLY DETAILS OF THE ROOM WITHIN EMERGED FROM THE MIST X CAN YOU SEE ANYTHING Q ?

This Howard Carter paraphrased quote dates back to his opening of the Tomb of Tutankahamun in 1922. The question asked in the deciphered text was spoken by Lord Carnavon to Carter. Carter’s field notes state that he replied with “Yes, it is wonderful.” In his book, The Tomb of. Tutankhamun, Carter’s reply was “Wonderful Things”

K4 – Remains Unsolved

Sanborn has released a few clues to K4, which combined with K1-K3 will provide the key to solving the Vigenére code on the right side panels of Kryptos. His clues indicate that the answers to K1-K3 will help solve K4 and that letters 64-69 in K4 encode to BERLIN.

How You Can Help

K4 is solvable and I’m sure that there are some of you out there who’s interest is piqued by the possible solutions. There’s a few ways that you can contribute to the solution and join the mystery, even if you’re not a cryptanalyst.

Elonka Dunin, runs one of the most prolific Websites about Kryptos and is credited with obtaining the information on the NSA cracking K1-K3 in 1993, during a recent FOIA request. In the FAQs on her Website, Dunin states that there’s a few Yahoo Discussion Groups to join and that anyone is welcome.

“It’s my strong belief that the ultimate solution to Kryptos will be obtained not just by someone with a brilliant cryptanalytic mind, but as part of a group effort. I want lots of different viewpoints in the brainstorming group. Cryptographers, artists, students, doctors, hobbyists, writers and even a few crackpots (of which I count myself as one!) I believe we can bring more to the problem by looking at it from many different angles, so don’t be afraid to “think different.”"

Fear not, Jim Sanborn has said that if he dies there will be someone to confirm, or deny, the solution…

References:


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RickRoberts1
RickRoberts1

    Here is my Kryptos 4 deciphering. Deciphered it reads, "NEARONDNERNBELNBTWEENWBRAAXROEALLNSNSALAALLVANNKNOWSABOUTWEKNOWTOOCROSSASSKNWXANEUANDSALUTEAOROOOVALOR". The message reads, "NEAR ROUND DINNER BELL IN BETWEEN NORTHWEST BARRACKS ROW ALL INSIDE NSA LIMITS AND ALL VANN KNOWS WE KNOW TOO CROSS ASKEW NORTHWEST CROSS AND YOU SALUTE A ROSE IN VALOR".


YKG
YKG

Just wanted to point out that what is listed above as the solution to K1 is the same as what is listed as the K2 solution. K2 is correctly listed. The correct solution to K1 is: BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION

Eric
Eric

Article title should probably read "Unbroken" instead of "Unbreakable".

Josephfromspain
Josephfromspain

Hello from Spain

+ I suggest a solution to KRIPTOS K4

+ IF the sculptor of Kryptos Mr. Sanborn 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
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/us/21code.html?ref=us

+ THEN in my humble opinion the best solution is this:
"PEOPLE TO CREATE A SAFER, FREER WORLD AND SURELY THERE IS NO BETTER PLACE THAN BERLIN THE MEETING PLACE OF EAST AND WEST"

+ BECAUSE

1_is a fragment of a speech of Ronald reagan in front of Berlin Wall and complies with the requirements explained by the sculptor.
—Ronald Reagan, address at the Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987.
LOOK http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/

He said:
“Today, thus, represents a moment of hope …….PEOPLE TO CREATE A SAFER, FREER WORLD AND SURELY THERE IS NO BETTER PLACE THAN BERLIN THE MEETING PLACE OF EAST AND WEST, to make a start.”


2_a question needs an answer:

SO, if K 3 has a question: ” …… can you see anythyngq?“. (The account of Howard Carter, the renowned Egyptologist, as he opened King Tut’s tomb. --and breaking the WALL--)

THEN … K 4 has an beatiful answer “ People to create a safer, freer world ……..” (a fragment of a speech of Ronald reagan in front of Berlin Wall)


3_is a beautiful and elegant solution, is what wanted the CIA: The Central Intelligence Agency planned the expansion known as the New Headquarters Building in the 1980s and asked artists to submit proposals to create a work of art for the courtyard. The broad principles it provided for the $250,000 commission included the notion that it should “engender feelings of well-being, hope.”

FINALLY
+ I do not know the name of the encryption system, but this solution complies with the requirements and is lovely.

Goodbye.

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