Hi all, I'm Elonka Dunin (proof). I have many interesting hobbies related to game development and the National Cryptologic Museum, but the thing that's got everybody really excited right now is Kryptos, the encrypted sculpture at the center of CIA Headquarters. The sculpture was installed about 30 years ago and has four ciphers on it, three of which have been solved. That fourth one, K4, is one of the most famous unsolved codes in the world. A video was just made about it by the folks at the CNN-backed "Great Big Story" site, and that 6-minute video was released yesterday: https://www.greatbigstory.com/stories/kryptos-puzzle

A few other related links:

My personal quickref bio: http://elonka.com/bio.html

My website about Kryptos: http://elonka.com/kryptos

A Wikipedia article about me: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elonka_Dunin

My Twitter page @ElonkaDunin: https://twitter.com/ElonkaDunin

My page about other Famous Unsolved Codes:   https://elonka.com/UnsolvedCodes.html

I'm here now to answer any questions you may have about Kryptos, or any other of my hobbies. Be aware that I am *not* an employee of the CIA, I just got in to CIA Headquarters a couple times as a civilian to see the sculpture, so no, I can't tell you about any of their covert ops. But about Kryptos or other unsolved codes, ask away!!

Update: Wrapping up at 1 am ET, thanks to all participants!

Comments: 777 • Responses: 73  • Date: 

rgov865 karma

Unsolved ciphers attract a lot of nut jobs. I am a moderator of r/codes (thanks for posting the other day!) and sometimes the solutions people concoct and post there have no rational basis. What are your best / worst stories?

Elonka1365 karma

Indeed! I have had people call me at all hours of the day and night, usually because they've moved the Scrabble pieces around, found the word "the", and now want to "hand it off to me" to solve the rest. The most common method is literally that, they'll take a cipher, move all the letters around, find a message in English that they like, and then they'll just conveniently ignore all the other letters!

Sometimes they are well-meaning and just over-eager, sometimes they are mentally ill, or sometimes in between. I always try to be kind and let them down gently, or point them somewhere else that they can get more info (sometimes to r/codes, sorry, LOL!)

For the mentally ill / schizophrenic, I think it's part of the disease, like right before a psychotic break, someone can be at that point where they're not sure what's real and what's not. Like if you're peering into the branches of a tree, and you're not sure if someone's sitting in the tree, so you keep peering, trying to make sense of the shifting branches. A cipher can really trigger that, as someone looks at letters and they think it should make sense, but it doesn't, so they keep working at it, trying to see the message on the other side of the words.

Demojen45 karma

Why is the last line in the fourth cipher out of order with the rest of it? All other lines include the word "Kryptos" in them with their subsequent order re-arranged upto the point where the vertical lines even read kryptos....until you get to that line, which is not in order.

Elonka36 karma

Do you mean the OBKR part? In that case it's because that's where it starts, on the fourth line from the bottom. The letters right before it (and the question mark) are part of K3, then K4 starts right after that.

spluv123 karma

omg you last sentence really helped me sympathize with my brother, as he is schizophrenic. thanks for taking the time to explain that~

Elonka21 karma

You are most welcome. Best wishes, you're in a tough situation, but it sounds like you're prepared to give him patience and love.

Silentbtdeadly15 karma

Do you have any specific books you found to be the most informative, least likely to result in someone appearing to be one of those people?

I've always been exceptional in finding patterns in systems, but I also excelled in finding better ways to identify a solution to these patterns (math, science, chemistry, etc).. but the best crypto book I've read seemed to use long hand solutions to simple problems (while I couldn't figure out something more intuitive).

And if that's not worth an answer, have you found different methods of solving these problems other than the "established" methods?

Elonka62 karma

The two books I most commonly recommend (aside from <cough> my own) are Simon Singh's "The Code Book", and then for those that want to delve deeper, David Kahn's "The Code Breakers", which is currently considered the gold standard for historical ciphers.

philipquarles500 karma

Do you think it's possible that Dan Brown's novels are actually encoded versions of good books?

Elonka464 karma

Heh. Well, it depends what you're looking for. If you want something that's going to give you solid historical information about art and architecture, maybe his books aren't what should be at the top of the list, though they can definitely give you the flavor of things.

If, however, you're sitting on a beach, you don't want to think too hard, and you just want something that's entertaining and will keep you turning pages, then yes, I'd say his books are perfect!

ErinInTheMorning385 karma

What makes K4 so famous and hard to solve? Is there anyone who you feel is "close" to getting it? Also, is K4 totally like some way to get new NSA/CIA/etc agents?

Elonka791 karma

Why is K4 so famous?

It’s smack in the middle of the Central Intelligence Agency!

Why is it hard?

Well, it’s short, only 97 characters, and that makes it very difficult to find the repeating patterns that cryptanalysts generally use to take a code apart. It was also designed by an artist, not a cryptographer, so he probably put in some twist that no one else was expecting.

Is anyone close to getting it?

The college-trained folks have been working on it for nearly 30 years, and have not succeeded. So I think everyone’s pretty equal at this point. It could be a trained cryptanalyst who gets it, or it could be someone who comes in out of left field with an idea that no one’s thought of. I encourage everyone to try! What we’re looking for is a message that’s in English, is 97 characters long, and has the words “BERLINCLOCK” starting at the 64th position. Good luck!

S3r3nd1p168 karma

Any comments on 3301?

Elonka174 karma

Hacker art. :)

Heeling79 karma

I wish I knew what those words meant in your mind, my mental image is not sufficient.

Elonka135 karma

A bunch of bored hackers giggling in a chat room, thinking about what they can do to mystify people. Now, some of Cicada obviously did take some planning and craftsmanship. But that still doesn't mean there's anything hefty behind it.

maverick_iceman167 karma

What are your thoughts on unsolved zodiac killer ciphers? Do you think it could ever be solved, or is it impossible?

Elonka255 karma

I haven't put much serious work into them, I don't like the subject matter (ick!).

I generally point people at the work of my associate David Oranchak who has a "Zodiac Killer Facts" www.zodiackillerciphers.com website. I think that some of the messages may be solvable, yes, but will be full of typos and shifting ciphersystems with different keys. But that's just a guess!

PaulClifford149 karma

What are some cryptography systems that normal people and kids can learn?

Elonka234 karma

Simple monoalphabetic substitution is easiest. Pretty much any puzzle book will have the simple letter substitution systems, especially in what's called the Aristrocrat system, where you can still see word breaks and punctuation. For a good book to read, I recommend Simon Singh's "The Code Book". I also highly recommend the American Cryptogram Association, they send out a regular periodical with codes and ciphers of all difficulties.

myfreakinears150 karma

Check out a game on steam called cipher for only a few bucks. Im in the middle of it right now. Lots of crypto info and learning. Id be curious how fast she can solve it too.

Elonka125 karma

Thanks! I'll add it to my Steam list.

Rqoo51139 karma

Saw the video yesterday thought it was pretty cool. I’ve read conflicting stories online, but how are we sure the guy that designed the puzzle didn’t mess up when encrypting the message and it in fact won’t translate back to plaintext? Like has someone else in the CIA being told the solution?

Elonka254 karma

My belief is that he intended it to be solved, with an English plaintext that's 97 characters long (and has BERLINCLOCK at the 64th position). However, to my knowledge, no one has ever tested his solution, so it's entirely possible that it has some mistake or impossible-to-reproduce method.

I think our best shot at solving it will be to try to replicate his method of pencil-and-paper matrices that he used for K1-K3, and then try to think like an artist, what might he have done to "make it harder", like by folding a page, flipping it over backwards, or something like that.

JEAFCommander111 karma

how does it feel to have one of your job titles to be "Certified ScrumMaster"

Elonka155 karma

I am proud of it! It’s an Agile management technique, and the term “Scrum” comes from the Rugby term), as teams rapidly pass the ball back and forth. It’s an alternate form of management to traditional waterfall methods that are more lock-step. In Agile, the power goes to the teams, since they’re closest to the work anyway. Strong teams are self-empowered and self-organized, can actually get a lot more done, and be happier doing it. So I love helping companies with Agile Transformations, it’s very fulfilling.

veggiekid23108 karma

What’s something no one has asked about yet that you really want to talk about?

Elonka214 karma

One other thing, the cipher that I found on the Friedman Tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery, I was very proud of that!

Elonka117 karma

About why we solve codes. I think it's because we’re human, and by our nature, we enjoy solving puzzles. Look at all the jigsaw puzzles that are sold. Or the “find the hidden picture” games where people spend hours trying to find small images in a larger picture. We enjoy that kind of thing. As for Kryptos itself, it’s a bit like the historical efforts to reach the North or South Pole, or to be the first to climb a mountain. To solve K4 would be a dramatic achievement, to solve something that decades of other solvers had not been able to conquer.

Bond111111106 karma

Sorry, joined late, but I was wondering what the solutions were for the three codes that have todate been solved?

Elonka207 karma

K1: BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION

K2: 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: 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 ?

PlanetLandon159 karma

I’m just some dumbass, (so this must already be known) but in K3, is that not Howard Carter talking about opening King Tut’s tomb?

Elonka158 karma

Yes! Paraphrased extract of his journal from November 26, 1922, on the day he opened King Tut's tomb. :)

DJCashEel92 karma

I'm looking to pick up cryptography as a hobby, but Im never quite sure where to start building my knowledge base and knowing what to look for. What beginner resources do you recommend?

Elonka101 karma

Simon Singh's "The Code Book", or join the American Cryptogram Association.

rgov85 karma

How did you get permission to visit Kryptos in person? Do you think it would ever be possible to obtain permission to survey the coordinates referenced with ground-penetrating radar to see if there is a buried part of the sculpture, as the plaintext suggests?

Elonka119 karma

My first visit, I finagled an invitation to Langley in 2002, shortly after the 9/11/2001 attacks, because I was giving a talk about Steganography, and what kinds of attacks that Al Qaeda might have been using. That talk (very out-dated) can be seen here:

For the 2019 visit, that was arranged because the CNN / Great Big Story crew was working on their new documentary.

ilovelannisters74 karma

Where did you get the pleather skirt you wore to Simucon 2007?

Elonka75 karma

LOL! I don't remember, it was probably one of the boutique stores around St. Louis. I did love that skirt!

its-me-snakes29 karma

Hahahahah oh memories.

Dragonrealms or Gemstone?

Elonka48 karma

I loved all my children equally. ;)

bordin8952 karma

What's a modern equivalent of the Enigma machine and Bletchley Park in terms of effort and challenge to the techniques we have available?

Elonka75 karma

Interesting question! One of the topics that keeps coming up is quantum computers and quantum cryptography, as in if that nut is cracked, all currently used systems will be solvable and we'll have to switch to something else. For more info on modern cryptography, definitely check out Bruce Schneier's website, schneier.com, and his regular newsletter Crypto-Gram. He has also done some other AMAs in 2013, 2016, and 2018 that you might want to check out, though I don't recall if he answered that question in particular (someone else could maybe check?)

-Rhialto-51 karma

Have Jim confirmed/certified that it's a solvable cipher and just not ramdoms letters? Must have been asked already but I just could well imagine he leaves our world laughing that nobody will ever decode as there is nothing to decode.

I mean he had this chance to remain famous in history for eternity so only a fool would not take that golden opportunity!

My fear is that he will leaves us with this exact secret.

Elonka99 karma

He has said that it's solvable, that it's in English, is exactly 97 characters long, and has BERLINCLOCK at the 64th position. He has also said he's going to give a new clue later this year, and that it will be "the last one". We'll see what that means!

rgov39 karma

Do you think that the PARASYSTOLE keyword is actually related to the solution, or is it a red herring? My impression is that this is one of the more important discoveries lately, but I can't tell if it should be taken seriously.

Elonka41 karma

It’s hard to say. Anything’s possible, I encourage all methods!

elahieh35 karma

You founded a Yahoo mailing list back in 2003 dedicated to solving Kryptos which has levelled off in terms of members and posts. There are about 20,000 messages and 3,000 members.

People who've solved challenges like the Belfield "Can you crack the Enigma Code" book, people who've solved other parts of Kryptos like Ed Hannon formerly of NSA, and Jim Gillogly who publicly solved K1-3 have left or don't post much.

I joined last year after holding off for a while, although I was warned that the mod deletes links from posts and doesn't allow code. Also there was a massive Yahoo hack after which many people left and didn't come back.

After joining, I can see why people don't come back or participate. Sadly, I can see why you don't post much either. Virtually all the (recent) posts are gibberish, Nostradamus, Knights Templar, alphabet soup, anagramming, Scrabble bag type stuff. The mod is fine with that. There's nothing that resembles classical cryptanalysis or American Cryptogram Association type ciphers, or any discussion of coding which might help. One of the most interesting posts in the last 7 years I've seen was actually outside the group, Gillogly's interview with KryptosFan.

People learned to get around the mod by using the "upload file" feature, which sends a "New file uploaded" message to the list. Universally, when you look at the file they uploaded it's something comprehensible only to themselves, if that. A list of 300 "codewords", or a random six letter phrase. Some of the biggest posters are case studies in psychoceramics.

Essentially, there's no ranking of posts - everyone has to wade through megabytes of rubbish, looking for messages which might be of some use.

In addition, the Yahoo mailing list search function is very slow, ineffective and a total PITA, and a reader can't move through messages quickly. It's hard for a reader to download the archive.

So - I recognize it's a "unique" problem, but if you had to design a collaborative attempt to solve a problem like this again (2019 not 2003), what kind of platform would you use? How would you design a moderation process to encourage the experts to stay and contribute while ensuring the cranks don't drown out the useful discussion?

Elonka49 karma

I feel your pain, it echoes all over the internet, like on Wikipedia where there’s little ranking between experts and hobbyists, though even so, things move forward! Personally, I’d love to use more of a wiki or threaded message board system, but that takes much more administration, and is highly prone to spam. Over the years, some other folks have tried starting wikis and other systems, but the efforts have not been successful because of the effort required. The current Yahoogroup seems to be at the right balance point between effort, sustainability, and information. If someone else would like to try something new though, I encourage you to do so! It definitely doesn’t need my approval. And I’m happy to link to it, for as long as it lives.

PM_ME_NUDE_KITTENS20 karma

That sounds a lot like Reddit, tbh

Honey_Badger_Badger9 karma

Or Slack.

Elonka7 karma

I love Slack, but it can get expensive with many users. And the free version doesn't maintain persistence in conversations for very long. :/

jasonappalachian32 karma

I'm very late to the party, but have you dropped by GemStone lately? Do you keep any connections with anyone from the game?

I'm a longtime player and have seen folks talk about your code-solving skills for years (decades now!)

Edited to plug GemStone IV (https://www.play.net/gs4/) a text-based RPG (MUD) that I've enjoyed playing for the past ~25 years.

Elonka28 karma

Hi, I am no longer playing, but I do think about GemStone often, it's awesome that it's been going since 1989, about the same amount of time as Kryptos! And I am still in touch with several people from Simutronics.

eqleriq28 karma

if i solved kryptos, would i be visited by agents?

what would i get out of telling anyone the solution?

i’ve heard it isn’t unsolvable, it’s easy if you had the proper clearance and access since it is a site specific geographic solution.

Elonka59 karma

If you solved it, there would be a big media splash, international news, probably for about a month, and it would be a feather in your cap which you could wear for the rest of your life.

AnUnexpectedUnicorn24 karma

I'm picturing a Good Will Hunting scenario where the brilliant janitor is the one to solve it!

Elonka33 karma

Maybe! I talk about Kryptos to everyone, and think it may well be someone who is not a college-educated cryptographer who finally solves it. Maybe we'll get an idea from a janitor, or a gardener, or a kid, or a chef, or a stonecutter, who knows? I encourage everyone to join our group, by sending an email to [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected])

TropicalFruitLover28 karma

What is your favorite tropical fruit?

Elonka33 karma

Papaya!

Frank_the_Mighty25 karma

A few months ago I wasted like 2 days looking at the Zodiac Killer's "my name is" cipher.

Do you have any thoughts on that, or do you share what I believe to be is the majority opinion that it's a waste of time?

Elonka24 karma

(copy/paste) I generally point people at the work of my associate David Oranchak who has a Zodiac Killer Facts www.zodiackillerciphers.com website. I think that some of the messages may be solvable, but will be full of typos and shifting ciphersystems with different keys. But that's just a guess!

YVX24 karma

What is your favorite code/cypher and why?

Elonka49 karma

Well, I'd love to get Kryptos K4 off my plate! It it were solved, I'd probably turn my attention to Edward Elgar's Dorabella Cipher, I think that's the next one most likely to be solved, as opposed to being a deliberate hoax.

nomopyt23 karma

Do you feel particularly smart generally? How hard was your profession for you to learn?

What's something simple that's been harder for you to learn than you think people would realize?

Elonka64 karma

I am generally a very humble person, it always surprises me when people say I'm smart! As for cryptography, I think I got started in it because it was easy for me, and to this day it confuses me when people say that it's hard!

I come from a long line of mathematicians, maybe that can explain the affinity. My father taught mathematics, my great-grandfather was Vice-Minister of Finance for Poland, my great-great-great-grandfather taught mathematics at the Institute for Nobles in Vilnius, Lithuania. So math, and logic, have always been easy for me.

What has always been difficult for me, is the traditional method of sitting in a classroom and listening to a lecture. I know it works for some people, they can have very disciplined minds that can get into the zone and absorb the information. For me though, my mind is not disciplined in that way, I tend to just fall asleep, it's just not a method that works for me. So much of my knowledge has come from me teaching myself, picking up different threads, following them for awhile until I find something else of interest, then following that one, and so forth. I love Wikipedia, and writing articles for Wikipedia (I've done hundreds) has been especially helpful, as doing the research for an article is a way that I really enjoy learning.

featherplucker23 karma

Hi Elonka, on the idea of codes and adventure, have you had a go at the Forrest Fenn treasure?

Elonka41 karma

A little bit, and I have friends who have put a *lot* of energy into it, as in going out into the woods with metal detectors. The big question for me is whether it's buried, or whether it's easier to spot. I'm an avid geocacher, where the rules are, "Don't bury it, but you can hide it." Even within those rules, it can be very difficult to find those caches. So I'll stick with geocaching, I've found over 2,500 so far, and really enjoy it!

domino722 karma

What are the odds that the various parts of Kryptos, when decoded, will in turn be part of a fifth meta-code?

Elonka43 karma

Very high. Sanborn himself has said that even once K4 is solved, there will be a further mystery to be solved. He has said many times that one of the points of artwork is to hold someone's attention. If everything about it can be absorbed rapidly, with nothing new to learn, then he feels that the artist has failed.

Elonka3 karma

Sorry, just answered this elsewhere. In short, high, though it might not be a code, it may be some other type of mystery.

SnacksAhoy22 karma

What's your favorite movie involving code breaking and is it Sneakers?

Elonka52 karma

"Beautiful Mind". I thought that the Director Ron Howard did a great job of showing inside the mind of a code-solver. Like when John Nash (Russell Crowe) was looking at a wall of letters, and some of them just "rose up" out of the wall. That's what it looks like for me when I'm working on a code, I'll think of one letter, or group of letters, and then they'll briefly rise up out of the pattern and I look at them for deeper patterns.

As for movies that I've watched over and over? "Hackers" is up there. Again, I liked the way that the film showed how someone intent on a problem can get into a state of flow where the rest of the world kind of fades away. Or "The Matrix" (just the first one, I didn't care for the second two).

violetchamomile29221 karma

What sparked your interest in cryptography?

Elonka85 karma

I've always been interested in codes and ciphers since I was a kid. Like I'd buy a magazine on crossword puzzles, ignore all the crosswords, and just do the logic/crypto puzzles in the back of the magazine.

Then my hobby sparked brighter when I was speaking at conventions, I was at Dragon Con 2000 in Atlanta, and heard about a code/puzzle called the PhreakNIC 3.0 Code that had been unsolved for a year. I got interested, cracked it, and then went around cracking a bunch of other codes in that convention scene. So many, that I've actually been banned from competition! Like a puzzle was released at one of the conventions, and at the bottom of the page it said something like, "Note: Past puzzle-solvers are ineligible for prizes with solving this one: Give someone else a chance, Elonka!" (and yes, I cracked that one too!)

amondohk20 karma

Hiya! I was wondering if you have ever taken a peek at the Voynich Manuscript? If so, what are your thoughts on the matter? :)

Elonka36 karma

Yes, I've even made my own copy of the Voynich, I attended the Voynich Conference at Italy's Villa Mondragone in 2012, and I saw the Voynich Manuscript in person when it was briefly on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. As for what I think, it varies from day-to-day. Sometimes I think it's a cipher, sometimes I think it was schizophrenic rantings, sometimes I think it was a deliberate hoax to separate Emperor Rudolf from some of his gold ducats, sometimes I think it was a "shopping catalog" by someone in the 15th century who was selling medicinal herbs and ointments and was trying to hike the prices of their wares with these "mysterious texts about unknown herbs from far away". So it depends when you ask me!

Mindraker19 karma

Do you have any evidence that the plaintext clue "Berlin Clock" for Kryptos' K4 is connected to a person's name?

Elonka19 karma

I've never heard that. I guess it's possible. Anything's possible!

rgov17 karma

Has research into the history of the Berlin Clock turned up anything interesting? It does not seem particularly remarkable to me, having even visited it in 2017. Is it possible there is another clock that is being referenced?

Elonka53 karma

Maybe. On the recent “sushi visit”, I asked Sanborn if he had a favorite Berlin clock, and he said yes, he liked “Both of them”, emphasizing “Both”. We don’t know what that means!

Frank_the_Mighty17 karma

Do you like Gravity Falls?

Elonka22 karma

I have heard about it, but haven't watched it yet.

KnowerOfSomeThings16 karma

What’s your favorite video game puzzle, Easter egg, secret, or code?

Elonka23 karma

Oooh, depends on the game! If it's one I really enjoy, and have played all the way through, then I'm more likely to go in and solve all the Easter eggs.

My first question is usually, "Is the game fun?" And if they've worked codes into the game, how smooth is the experience? Generally I want to play a game that puts me into a state of flow, where time slips by. But if a game puts up a blocker like, "Solve this code before you can proceed" and it jerks you out of the flow, that's not necessarily good game design. Then again, some games have it well-integrated, where you can immediately use tools to start poking at the code to take it apart, with hints for folks who aren't code people to get them over the hump. And that can be a lot of fun!

ARedditorOnReddit15 karma

[deleted]

Elonka15 karma

I know that there is a reddit thread on this, but I haven't looked into it myself. There are other albums that have hidden ciphers on them, like Duran Duran's spin-off group "Arcadia" had some numeric substitution ciphers on some of their albums and singles. As for who started the Pink Floyd one, it's of course possible that someone knew someone at one of the Agencies. I tend to see places like the CIA and NSA as big university campuses with thousands of very bright people, who of course can have friends out in the civilian world.

ImSean15 karma

What are some of the newer discoveries/learnings in cryptography these days? Are there any scholars/researchers doing really groundbreaking or exciting work?

Elonka16 karma

For modern cryptography, definitely check out Bruce Schneier's website, schneier.com, and his regular newsletter Crypto-Gram.

PotGetsStirred13 karma

Do you foresee Universal 2nd Factor authentication (U2F) becoming the standard and replacing 2FA anytime soon, and if so, why?

Elonka17 karma

For that type of question, I will defer to Bruce Schneier, his website is schneier.com, and his regular newsletter Crypto-Gram. He has also done some other AMAs in 2013, 2016, and 2018 that you might want to check out, though I don't recall if he answered that question in particular (someone else could maybe check?)

cliiiip_cliiiip12 karma

Is there any collaboration between the CIA and civilians in solving Kryptos? Or competition?

Elonka26 karma

Well, I'm very grateful that the CIA allowed us to come in and do filming this year!

I think most of the recent efforts on Kryptos are probably done in the real code-breaking arm of the TLAs (three letter agencies), the NSA, or National Security Agency. They're generally pretty secretive, folks sometimes joke that NSA stands for "No Such Agency"! But I've definitely had some NSA people, current and retired, who have joined our brainstorming groups from time to time.

lupuspizza11 karma

Blockchain what are your thoughts. You an early bitcoin adopter or feel cryptographers are getting more attention now because of crypto?

Elonka13 karma

I am an interested observer as involving Bitcoin, I have not purchased any. As for crypto, yes, I think that word can be used in many different contexts, as all it means is "hidden"!

AnnaWaine11 karma

Hi Elonka! Do you have any thoughts on how the keywords PALIMPSEST AND ABSCISSA were supposed to be figured out (aside from brute force)?

I was under the impression that the sculpture was a message to an operative in the field, who could solve the entire thing based off of surrounding clues, with pencil and paper.

Thank you!

Elonka13 karma

Yes, my understanding is that it was meant to be solved with pencil-and-paper techniques, and that there were clues around the sculpture. One, of course, is the big Vigenere tableau on half, even though it used a slightly different Vigenere technique (Quagmire II vs III) than what was actually needed for K1 and K2. And that tableau used "Kryptos" as a keyword, and Kryptos is indeed a key for K1 and K2 (and maybe K3).

As for Abscissa, it means the X-coordinate on a graph. Maybe the 4-paneled nature of Kryptos was intended to mean that? I don't know.

And Palimpsest, a message that has an older message showing through? Again, not sure. There are the out-of-alignment letters, which Sanborn has said were important, but not for K4. He also said that the Morse Code messages in other sculptures outside the front entrance were intended to be related to Kryptos K2, the "radio operator" section. But as for how exactly, we're not sure!

ThurmanatorOmega11 karma

what is your opinion on fire emblem three houses?

Elonka19 karma

So many games, so little time! It looks interesting, and the series has definitely done well so far. We'll see, not far to go, I believe it's coming out later this month?

SuperHellFrontDesk9 karma

What is your favorite cipher based off of historical/past techniques, do you think would be the most difficult if formulated today? Like, anything formulated before 1900, for example? The easiest of the hard ones?

Elonka17 karma

The Vigenere system was for many years considered the uncrackable code (" le chiffre indéchiffrable "), but in modern days can usually be cracked quite quickly.

niikhil8 karma

How can I explain my old parents the advantages of 2Factor Authentication ?

Elonka27 karma

It depends on their resistance to it. What are their objections? If they say, "No one would want my information," point out that identity theft can be a massive messy business if they suddenly found their credit cards unusable, their bank accounts drained, and people signing up for loans in their names! Sometimes I also point out even if they don't care if someone hacks into their computer, that sometimes evil actors will hack into a *lot* of unsuspecting people's computers, and then use them like giant armies to attack banks and other sites, which can then have repercussions on the unsuspecting folks (your parents). And that the easiest way to fight against this right now is to use a method where they confirm their identity with their phone, each time they login.

Saying "2 Factor Authentication" might also be a term that's scary to them if they haven't heard it. So you might use language like, "There are a lot of internet thieves out there. This is just a way to put a double-lock on your doors and safe deposit boxes in the internet."

niikhil9 karma

Thank you so much . I will give it a shot tomorrow night . May I also say thank you for inspiring us all and also doing this AMA.

Elonka8 karma

Thank you for the kind words!

Penultimate_Push8 karma

How common is it for an encryption to be able to use the same letter over itself? I know K4 does this as was explained in one of the hints.

Elonka11 karma

Depends on the cipher system. Generally if you want to make something super secure, you might want to avoid that, as it gives people a crib, a potential way to solve the message. If they see enough letters "showing through", then they might be able to start guessing plaintext.

Elonka8 karma

Okay, wrapping up at 1 am ET, thanks to everyone that participated!

gorakruzer7 karma

Oh my God. I saw a video about you yesterday. My question is. How do you manage to be calm when you can’t find an answer to an encrypted mesaage? Insaw your video on the kryptos wall and I would freak out and punch the creator in the face if he doesnt tell me the answer... just kidding. Have a good day!

Elonka6 karma

When I can't solve something, I go until my eyes get blurry, then I go have something to eat and watch some sci-fi show (right now working my way through back episodes of "Earth: Final Conflict", plus "Doctor Who", and "Black Mirror"). And then go work on something else for awhile! My to-do list on Trello always has plenty of things needing my attention, LOL!

nakiadotnet6 karma

My grandmother bought me a subscription to the magazine Games when I was 8 years old. I was fascinated by the puzzles and cryptography in those issues back in the 80s. Do you believe children should learn more about cryptography in elementary school?

Elonka18 karma

I think that anything that encourages logical thought and critical thinking, is much-needed in our current times!

nypvtt5 karma

Hi Elonka, when you finally do solve K4 do you think you will shout "Eureka" upon seeing the message?

Elonka15 karma

I think I will shout "Finally!" With potentially some choice expletives in a variety of languages. :)

I_pro5 karma

Do you use cryptographic shorthand notation in your day planner? what does it look like?

Elonka13 karma

Nope, I have enough trouble reading my own handwriting! For my daily planner, I use Trello!

A-Manual5 karma

How do you know that Kryptos is not just a troll? What makes everyone who are working on it so sure that there's an actual message? Is there a hint of incompleteness based on the other Kryptos codes that were already cracked?

Elonka24 karma

From my many years of associating with Jim Sanborn, and the man who taught him about codes, Ed Scheidt (retired Chairman of the CIA Cryptographic Center), I am relatively confident that the intent was for Kryptos to be solvable. I just haven't gotten that sense from Sanborn that it's a nonsense solution, I really think that there's a message there.

Perfectenschlag_5 karma

How do you go about determining whether there’s a typo in a solution? Have you already figured out what the word has to be, then try different misspellings?

Elonka17 karma

That's a really good question, and it's just part of the code-breaking process. Sometimes if we can't find "real" words, we'll search for variants. These might me misspelled versions, or something that takes out all the vowels, or is spelled backwards.

I remember one convention cipher I worked on, which was done in Playfair. It hadn't been solved yet, so I considered more of the code's context. Like:

Who wrote it? Probably the convention organizer.

When did he write it? Probably the night before the convention!

What state was he in? Probably inebriated, heh.

So then I started looking at the system with that mindset, of, "What would a person in that state do, as he was creating such a cipher? What mistakes might have he made?" For example, with Playfair there is often a shift from left to right, or top to bottom, and vice-versa. So I considered that in cases where he was meaning to shift from left to right, he actually shifted right to left, and may have been going back and forth in his bleary-eyed state. And with that, I started getting a couple words (of course something like "the"). From there, I kept going, found more words, and then zipped the entire thing open! So satisfying to solve, and also gave me a good laugh!

Luciro4 karma

When I think Game Dev and Ciphers, I think of Call of Duty Zombie's MASSIVE assortment of codes and ciphers that the whole community pitches together for (along with other general mysteries)! Are there pieces of pop culture, be it in games. movies, shows, etc., that you feel really give these sorts of puzzles the limelight?

Elonka4 karma

I often have young people come up to me at talks, and speak about the Artemis Fowl books. I keep meaning to read them!

anon985434232 karma

Have you worked on encrypting or creating your own ciphers, or have you primarily been focused on decryption? What draws you to one or the other?

Elonka5 karma

I do both. Writing codes can be a time-consuming business, just like writing a book. Then again, solving codes can be time-consuming too! It just depends where my mind is at the moment.

freddie_is_NOT_dead2 karma

I'm really interested and really want to go into cryptography very soon.

What is it like and do you have any suggestions on certifications or process?

Elonka10 karma

Definitely study as much mathematics as you can. Modern ciphers use "big math". I also recommend checking out Bruce Schneier's website, schneier.com, and his regular newsletter Crypto-Gram. He has also done some other AMAs in 2013, 2016, and 2018 that you might want to check out.

uss19951 karma

How do you find block chain technologies?

Elonka2 karma

I would start by Googling, reading on Wikipedia, and then going to Bruce Schneier's website, schneier.com

I4G0tMyUsername-3 karma

Why do you feel the need to give yourself so many titles?

Elonka4 karma

It's a list of Agile certifications. Like lawyers have titles, doctors are "MD", and university graduates can be B.A., M.A., PhD, etc. Or like when you see a military uniform with ribbons, many can often read those ribbons quite quickly to see someone's skills, experience, and heroism! In Agile, reading a list of someone's certifications can be a quick way of learning how much training that they've had, and which types of Agile skills they have focused in. In general, the more certs, the better job you can get! For my certs, a basic summary is that I am a skilled Agilist, certified at being a Scrum Master, Agile Coach, and SAFe (Scaled Agile) consultant. I also have a PMP (Project Management Professional) cert, which is very difficult to get and is often considered the "gold standard" among waterfall project managers. So I list it to show that I speak both Agile and Waterfall!