Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Code Book

Continuing with last-century books, or rather, the books that I so meant to read last century. Yes, I distinctly remember reading a review of The Code Book in The Guardian, or Independent, or maybe both. Some 15 years later, I can confirm at last: it is good. It reads like a detective story... Well it is a collection of detective stories, mostly to do with cryptography and cryptanalysis — featuring Mary Queen of Scots, the Beale papers and, of course, breaking of Enigma — with a delightful digression into history of decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics and Linear B.

The closer to the modern day, the more out-of-date the book becomes. Singh’s statement that “Possibly the greatest allies of the civil-libertarian cause are the big corporations” sounds surprisingly naïve even for 1999. Of course, September 11 attacks, War on Terror and NSA leaks all happened this century. Time for a new edition perhaps? Yes please, and a new challenge please!

The book is concluded with the Cipher Challenge, a set of ten messages encrypted in ten different ways. Needless to say, by now the web page where the updates on the challenge were supposed to be posted is gone. Luckily (for those, who is still interested), the author maintains the archive of this challenge. The £10,000 prize was claimed by a team of Swedish researchers one year and one month after the challenge was originally published.

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