Tag Archives: Cryptography

Unbreakable Codes

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The Voynich Manuscript (1400-1500s)

Few encrypted texts are as mysterious – or as tantalizing – as the Voynich manuscript, a book dating to either 15th- or 16th-century Italy and written in a language no one understands, about a subject that no one can figure out, and involving illustrations of plants that don’t exist. Plus it’s got Zodiac symbols, astrological charts, illustrations of medicinal herbs, and drawings of naked womenbathing while hooked up to tubes.

The manuscript’s 246 calfskin pages were perhaps meant for alchemy or medieval medicine, but no one knows for sure. What we do know is that it’s written in a language distinct from any European language, and follows a pattern unique to its own. The alphabet ranges from 19 to 28 letters, with an average word length consistent with Greek- or Latin-derived languages, but is missing two-letter words while repeating words at a much higher rate than other European languages. All told, the book has 170,000 characters in it, written from left to right, and there are no punctuation marks.

William Friedman, one of the 20th century’s greatest cryptographers, couldn’t figure it out and suspected Voynich was a constructed, artificial language. (With no Rosetta Stone to help translate.) German computer scientist Klaus Schmeh suspected a hoax, and also suggested the manuscript’s original language could have been encoded in a much larger set of “meaningless filler text.” But there’s no system for separating out the real text from the junk. Linguist and computer scientist Gordon Rugg also concluded the manuscript was a hoax.

Knight has been wrestling with Voynich for the better part of a decade, on and off. Recently, he and University of Chicago computer scientist Sravana Reddy discovered that the word length and frequency and the seeming presence of morphology – or the structure of word forms – “and most notably, the presence of page-level topics conform to natural language-like text.”

The problem is that no one seems to know where to go next.”

More unbreakable codes: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/12/codes/

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The Voynich Manuscript dates to the early 15th Century

“University of Arizona researchers have cracked one of the puzzles surrounding what has been called “the world’s most mysterious manuscript” — the Voynich manuscript, a book filled with drawings and writings nobody has been able to make sense of to this day.

Using radiocarbon dating, a team led by Greg Hodgins in the UA’s department of physics has found the manuscript’s parchment pages date back to the early 15th century, making the book a century older than scholars had previously thought.

Currently owned by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, the manuscript was discovered in the Villa Mondragone near Rome in 1912 by antique book dealer Wilfrid Voynich while sifting through a chest of books offered for sale by the Society of Jesus. Voynich dedicated the remainder of his life to unveiling the mystery of the book’s origin and deciphering its meanings. He died 18 years later, without having wrestled any its secrets from the book.

“Is it a code, a cipher of some kind? People are doing statistical analysis of letter use and word use — the tools that have been used for code breaking. But they still haven’t figured it out.”

More: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110210153016.htm

Copiale Cipher, an 18th century secret code is broken

The “75,000-character Copiale Cipher finally has been broken.

The mysterious cryptogram, bound in gold and green brocade paper, reveals the rituals and political leanings of an 18th-century secret society in Germany. The rituals detailed in the document indicate the society had a fascination with eye surgery and ophthalmology, though it seems members of the society were not eye doctors.”

The code was broken by a team led by Kevin Knight.

“To break the cipher, Knight and colleagues Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer of Uppsala University in Sweden tracked down the original manuscript, which was found in the East Berlin Academy after the Cold War and now is in a private collection. They transcribed a machine-readable version of the text, using a computer program created by Knight to help quantify the co-occurrences of certain symbols and other patterns.”

Read more: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111025102320.htm