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[ISN] World's Toughest Code Cracked
From: William Knowles (wkC4I.ORG)
Date: Thu Oct 12 2000 - 23:09:34 CDT
10:05 a.m. Oct. 12, 2000 PDT
LONDON -- A team of Swedish computer buffs have fought off thousands
of rivals from around the world to crack what was billed as the
toughest code challenge ever set.
It took the Swedes the equivalent of 70 years of computer time to
decipher 10 increasingly difficult codes set by author Simon Singh in
his international bestseller The Code Book.
They ranged from ciphers dating back to ancient Greece through
Victorian codes and the famed Nazi Enigma code machine from World War
"It is the toughest code that has ever been cracked," Singh said on
Thursday before handing over the first prize cheque for 10,000 pounds
(US$15,000) to the team headed by Fredrik Almgren.
Almgren works on Internet security. He solved the puzzle with software
developer Torbjorn Granlund and a trio of computer buffs from the
Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
The challenge had obsessed thousands of codebreakers around the world.
They even set up their own website which attracted 2,500 fans, from a
14-year-old schoolboy to math professors.
Singh, believing that the ultimate prize was out of their reach, had
already given a 1,000-pound prize to two computer buffs who had
cracked the first nine codes. But then the Swedes came through with
the solution to the final 512 bit code.
Singh, who has a doctorate in physics at Cambridge University, took
two years to create the brain teasers with Dr. Paul Leyland, who works
for Microsoft in Cambridge.
They worked in total secrecy. "I regularly went into my little garden,
dipped the relevant papers in molten wax and set them alight," Singh
told Thursday's Daily Telegraph.
Almgren admitted that it was a long, hard grind and the Swedish team
were tempted to abandon ship at times.
"The first stages were very simple but at one point we thought we
wouldn't get any further than stage eight," he told BBC radio.
"When you do come to the 10th stage it is a question of heavy
mathematics and rather difficult algorithms that I don't even claim to
The cipher the team finally cracked is similar to the online security
used by Internet banking and shopping outlets. But Singh argued that
this did not mean Internet security had been compromised.
"It is the sort of thing that some people do use on the Internet for
Internet security," Singh said.
"That doesn't necessarily mean that Internet security is invalid
because it took a year for a team of Swedes to crack this with some
very sophisticated computers."
"Communications without intelligence is noise; Intelligence
without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
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