With trembling hands, I made a tiny breach in the upper left hand corner… widening the hole a little, I inserted the candle and peered in… at first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle to flicker. Presently, details of the room emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold – everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand in suspense any longer, inquired anxiously “Can you see anything?”, it was all I could do to get out the words “Yes, wonderful things”.
Howard Carter — The Tomb of Tutankhamen
Diary — November 26 1922
KRYPTOS is a sculpture by the American artist Jim Sanborn located on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia. Since its dedication on November 3, 1990, there has been much speculation about the meaning of the four encrypted messages it bears. Of the four messages, the first three have been solved, while the fourth message remains as one of the most famous unsolved codes in the world. The sculpture continues to be of interest to cryptanalysts, both amateur and professional, who are attempting to decipher the fourth passage. The artist has so far given two clues to this passage.
In this post, I present the solution to Section III of the cypher as explained by the NSA. As I explained before, I do not like this method/explanation for several reasons. I do not think that this technique would appeal to an artist such Sanborn. Moreover, the way the question mark is handled is highly dubious. And finally, there is no explanation for the mysterious “Q” at the end of the message. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY
RELATED POST: The KRYPTOS Sculpture — An Introduction
RELATED POST: The KRYPTOS Code — How to Break a Vigenère Code
RELATED POST: The KRYPTOS Code — The Solution of Section II
RELATED POST : The KRYPTOS Sculpture — History of the NSA Involvement
RELATED POST: The KRYPTOS Sculpture — SECTION IV: A few clues
The ciphertext on the left-hand side of the sculpture (as seen from the courtyard) of the main sculpture contains 869 characters in total (865 letters and 4 question marks).
The right-hand side of the sculpture comprises a keyed Vigenère encryption tableau, consisting of 867 letters.
In our last posts about KRYPTOS, we learned how to break a Vigenère code and we apply this knowledge to decode the entire section I and II. The section III involves a different kind of encryption method.
Encrypted Text of KRYPTOS Section III
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 lefthand 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?
The question with which it ends is asked by Lord Carnarvon, to which Carter (in the book) famously replied “wonderful things”. In the November 26, 1922 field notes, however, his reply was, “Yes, it is wonderful.” [Wikipedia]
Comment: The word “DESPARATLY” is obviously misspelt and stands for “desperately”. I do not know if Jim Sanborn has made any comment regarding this mistake. I suspect that if Sanborn had spelt this word correctly, the symbol “Q” at the end of the plaintext would not be there!
The NSA Solution
First, the plaintext is written backward in a 86 x 4 matrix. The four lines are:
?QGNIHTYNAEESUOYNACXTSIMEHTMORF — FOTEMALF
EHTDESUACREBMAHCEHTMORFGNIPACSE — OHEHTGNI
NEDIWNEHTDNARENROCDNAHTFELREPPU — AWYAWROO
DEHTFOTRAPREWOLEHTDEREBMUCNETAH — YLTARAPSEDYLWOLS
Comment: I have only written the beginning and the end of each line.
Next, each line of the text is cut in length of 7:
?QGNIHT YNAEESU OYNACXT SIMEHTM ORFDEGR EMENIHT IWMOORE HTFOSLI ATEDYLT NESERPT UBREKCI LFOTEMA LF
EHTDESU ACREBMA HCEHTMO RFGNIPA CSERIAT OHEHTNI DEREEPD NAELDNA CEHTDET RESNIIE LTTILAE LOHEHTG NI
NEDIWNE HTDNARE NROCDNA HTFELRE PPUEHTN IHCAERB YNITAED AMISDNA HGNILBM ERTHTIW DEVOMER SAWYAWR OO
DEHTFOT RAPREWO LEHTDER EBMUCNE TAHTSIR BEDEGAS SAPFOSN IAMEREH TYLWOLS YLTARAP SEDYLWO LS
Next, we restack it into 7 columns:
Next, the order of the column is modified according to KRYPTOS numerically keyed.
K R Y P T O S K O P R S T Y
0 3 6 2 5 1 4 -> 0 1 2 3 4 5 6
LS L S
LF L F
NI N I
OO O O
Finally, write the columns downwards, left to right.
And of course, all these steps must be reversed to decode the cypher. According to the CIA expert who taught Sanborn the basics of cryptology, they agreed that the coding of KRYPTOS should be done with “pencil & paper”. Sorry, but I like my solution way better!
KRYPTOS in 3D — VIDEO
Kryptos — Wikipedia
Stein, David D. (1999). “The Puzzle at CIA Headquarters: Cracking the Courtyard Crypto” (pdf). Studies in Intelligence. 43 (1).
Vigenère cipher — Wikipedia
The KRYPTOS Sculpture — The NSA Solution for Section III