A 400-Year History of Cryptanalysis
A coded message of the "Zodiac"
serial killer that was broken by a California
couple in a few hours.
Kaczynski—the infamous "Unabomber"—used
them. So did Russian spies like Rudolf Abel.
Not to mention John Wilkes Booth and Mary,
Queen of Scots.
talking about secret codes and ciphers...used
in the commission of crime, espionage, and
out how law enforcement broke these and other
codes with "cryptanalysis" in Code
Breaking in Law Enforcement: A 400-Year History
in the new issue of Forensic
Science Communications. The article was
written by one of our own cryptanalysts, Dorn
Vernessa Samuel, who works in the Cryptanalysis
and Racketeering Records Unit in the FBI Laboratory.
are a few of the cases featured:
He Wrote. While in jail awaiting trial
for the 2004 murder of an 11-year-old Florida
girl, Joseph Peter Smith sent his brother
a coded message. Authorities asked us to
analyze it, and our cryptanalysts quickly
broke the code. It wasn't easy: Smith had
replaced letters of the alphabet with a
series of number/symbol combinations written
from right to left and from the bottom of
the page going up. In the letter, Smith
made incriminating references to moving
the body and hiding evidence, and he was
ultimately convicted of the crime.
in the Family. Code-breaking pioneers
Elizebeth Friedman and her husband William
were considered the "greatest marriage
in the history of cryptology." Elizebeth,
a Treasury Department cryptanalyst, unraveled
bootleggers' ciphers during Prohibition, solved
a Chinese code that broke up an opium smuggling
ring (even though she didn't know the language),
and helped settle a maritime dispute between
the U.S. and Canada (see the article for the
interesting details!). A U.S. Army cryptologist
who coined the term "cryptanalysis",
William decrypted Japanese diplomatic messages
during World War II and secret telegrams in
the 1924 Teapot Dome Scandal that led to the
resignation of top U.S. officials.
versus South. Both Union and Confederate
forces used ciphers during the Civil War.
Confederates were less successful in figuring
out Union codes, though, and started publishing
them in Southern newspapers, imploring readers
to break them. John Wilkes Booth and his
conspirators supposedly used ciphers as
well to coordinate plans to assassinate