The FBI Needs You to Solve this Code

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The FBI Needs You to Solve this Code

Two coded notes were found on the body of a man in 1999, and the FBI still hasn't figured out what it means.

Police in St. Louis, Missouri discovered the body of Ricky McCormick on June 30, 1999. The 41-year-old was found in a field and the only clue the FBI found as to what may have caused his death were two scraps of paper found in his pants pocket. The handwritten notes are 30 lines of numbers and letters grouped into several sections by parentheses and outlines, but after 12 years of trying, the FBI has called uncle. The best cryptanalysts in the country - from the Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit of the FBI and even the American Cryptogram Association - are unable to break the code, and the agency is asking for a little help from the public.

"We are really good at what we do," said Dan Olson from the FBI, "but we could use some help with this one. Breaking the code could reveal the victim's whereabouts before his death and could lead to the solution of a homicide. Not every cipher we get arrives at our door under those circumstances."

McCormick was a high school dropout, but his family says that he had experimented with codes and ciphers his whole life. The FBI believes that the notes were written not more than three days before he was killed, so deciphering them might point to circumstances of his death such as his whereabouts leading up to the murder.

Personally, I think the notes might be a suicide note from McCormick, but the FBI is more concerned with the challenge of cracking the code. "Even if we found out that he was writing a grocery list or a love letter, we would still want to see how the code is solved. This is a cipher system we know nothing about," Olson said.

It may seem strange that the best code-breakers in the country are stumped by a code that a high school dropout could devise, but solving ciphers is never a simple process. This story reminds me of the sculpture that resides at the CIA headquarters called Kryptos that holds similar lines of text. The artist, Jim Sanborn, assumed that the code would be broken within a year or two of the sculpture installation in 1990 but he's still dropping hints 20 years later so that the message is solved before he dies.

With codes like this, it sometimes helps to have a similar cipher for comparison, so the FBI has made the notes of McCormick available to the public to see if anyone has any clue or notion on what they might mean. If you have any ideas or know of a system that works like McCormick's does, write to Olson at the following snail mail address:

FBI Laboratory
Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit
2501 Investigation Parkway
Quantico, VA 22135
Attn: Ricky McCormick Case

And if this is just some crazy ARG designed to find the brightest codebreaker in the world and get him to Quantico to work for the FBI, well then, kudos. It's like The Last Starfighter!

Source: FBI

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Cracked it - it says "If this takes you more than 10 years to solve, I win".

Although obviously he didn't.

I'm pretty sure we've got someone here who can solve this, especially after that Puzzle adventure thing.

Greg Tito:
This story reminds me of the sculpture that resides at the CIA headquarters called Kryptos that holds similar lines of text. The artist, Jim Sanborn, assumed that the code would be broken within a year or two of the sculpture installation in 1990 but he's still dropping hints 20 years later so that the message is solved before he dies.

No one has solved it because they don't let people near the dam thing anymore.

...

Never thought the FBI could be stumped by a code. Can't they just digitize it and brute-force it or something?

I'm no cryptanalyst, but if I had to guess i'd say this guy came up with some kind of one-time pad. Those are supposed to be mathematically unbreakable unless you have a copy of the original pad used to encrypt it.

Dude just wrote random numbers to fuck with us. He is one good troll.

OT: I'm really surprised it hasn't been cracked yet. It's probably what I wrote earlier in my post.

It's a good thing they revealed these to the public post haste.

doggie015:
...

Never thought the FBI could be stumped by a code. Can't they just digitize it and brute-force it or something?

there are several known ciphers which a brute-force search would take the age of the universe to break, even with the fastest possible conventional computers. This is part of the reason for the interest in quantum computing.

In my opinion this kind of thing is probably either:
1. A clever way to confuse the police if you murdered this man
2. It could be this guy saying, "if i'm going to kill myself, I might as well make the police involved confused as hell." *scribbles random letters on paper*

Troll physics.

ranyilliams:
2. It could be this guy saying, "if i'm going to kill myself, I might as well make the police involved confused as hell." *scribbles random letters on paper*

I would minefield the whole scene with unreasonable amount of boobytraps.

"The Reapers are coming."

Alpha Maeko:
"The Reapers are coming."

Yes.

OT:
If it can be solved, the internet will be the one to do it. Too bad it's taken the FBI this long to realize this.

HankMan:
I'm pretty sure we've got someone here who can solve this, especially after that Puzzle adventure thing.

Greg Tito:
This story reminds me of the sculpture that resides at the CIA headquarters called that holds similar lines of text. The artist, Jim Sanborn, assumed that the code would be broken within a year or two of the sculpture installation in 1990 but he's still dropping hints 20 years later so that the message is solved before he dies.

No one has solved it because they don't let people near the dam thing anymore.

true, but for the record, the first three sets have been solved, the fourth is the bastard of the group, adn the reason they dont let people near it is because it is a hazard....

like if someone set up a LAN party in a universities dorm hallways.....

OT: Unless someone can break the cipher the guy used, which looks like he didn't leave much information about how he encoded his messages, it will be nothing short of in our imagination.... he is making "Your Mom" jokes to us for not being able to solve it.

I would look for recurring characters and character series, but like the FBI has already found out, unless you know what the cipher is, its just a bunch of coded "Your Mom" jokes.

I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark.

It's late, so I don't have the time to test my theory, but I'll put it on here in case somebody wants to waste their time. This I literally thought up seconds ago, so excuse the fact that it's almost certainly stupid and useless.

Okay, write A = 1, B = 2 and so on through the whole alphabet. Now under that line write Z = 1, Y = 2 and so on until you've gone through the whole alphabet backwards. Using these values, swap the letters around.

For example, the letter F = 6, so we look at the other line, where 6 = U. So replace the F with a U. Now do this for all the letters, and see if it's just as nonsensical as before.

(Tip) It probably is.

Who Dares Wins:
Dude just wrote random numbers to fuck with us. He is one good troll.

OT: I'm really surprised it hasn't been cracked yet. It's probably what I wrote earlier in my post.

probably this.

if the FBI hasn't cracked this yet, then it's probably gibberish. in my amateur opinion, there are way too many repeated letter patterns for this to be any kind of polyalphabetic cipher and a simple substitution cipher would be trivial to solve.

the dashed lines like "KLSE-LKSTE-TRSE-TRSE-MKSEN-MKSE" on the second page are particularly suspicious in how repetitive the letter patterns are.

Second column third to last word is defense.(just a guess

It's easy: 10011000100010010010001001010001001 and it goes on forever

give me 50 years and i'll tell you i still have no bloody idea

Would take me a bit of time but the first note obviously states 3 points towards the main idea, followed by an address at the bottom. PRSE and NCBE are obviously acronyms Caeser shifted.

The use of brackets show that some things are observations not fact. Probably by using the RS and CB couplings you could re-create the note. I'd do it now but I'm a bottle of red down.

At a stab, RSE would stand for ING, given where it's used.

doggie015:
...

Never thought the FBI could be stumped by a code. Can't they just digitize it and brute-force it or something?

suppose Eve intercepts Alice's ciphertext: "EQNVZ". If Eve had infinite computing power, she would quickly find that the key "XMCKL" would produce the plaintext "HELLO", but she would also find that the key "TQURI" would produce the plaintext "LATER", an equally plausible message:

Thats why :).

More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-time_pad

Mccormick? like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenny_McCormick this couldn't be some kind of incredibly dedicated south park fan could it?

The worst part with stuff like this is; you might have the right deciphering scheme around, but what if you don't recognise it as correct because the original message was written in a language alien to you?

Luckily supercomputers can cross check each result against word lists for all known languages, and I am sure the FBI has already done that before dismissing stuff.
Right...? :P

Greg Tito:
If you have any ideas or know of a system that works like McCormick's does, write to Olson at the following snail mail address:

...He wants to be contacted via snail mail? No wonder they haven't solved this yet.

HankMan:
I'm pretty sure we've got someone here who can solve this, especially after that Puzzle adventure thing.

Greg Tito:
This story reminds me of the sculpture that resides at the CIA headquarters called Kryptos that holds similar lines of text. The artist, Jim Sanborn, assumed that the code would be broken within a year or two of the sculpture installation in 1990 but he's still dropping hints 20 years later so that the message is solved before he dies.

No one has solved it because they don't let people near the dam thing anymore.

did they ever let anyone near it?

you can see the entire text of Kryptos here.

damn. I don't even know were to start. Reminds me that browser game Torment. 3 years and noone has beat it.

Greg Tito:
It may seem strange that the best code-breakers in the country are stumped by a code that a high school dropout could devise, but solving ciphers is never a simple process.

This is clearly not your average high school dropout. These people, these "best code-breakers in the country", could break your average high school dropout's code in a fraction of a second. If they can't break it, there's a very good chance that he's using some known incredibly-secure method of encryption. He could have used a one-time pad for instance, which would make his code quite literally unbreakable. (I saw someone said they're "supposed to be unbreakable". They're completely unbreakable. It isn't that we can't think of a good way to break them, it's that you can give a proof showing them to be unbreakable. A basic knowledge of math and cryptanalysis combined with some thought makes it pretty obvious as to how.)

Further cryptanalysis issues: brute-forcing a code is useless against a one-time pad or any similar cipher because you'll find close to an infinite number of plausible messages with no way to know which one is the right one. Brute forcing even a relatively bad modern cipher is also essentially impossible at this point. Someone mentioned quantum computing, but quantum computing isn't projected to provide speeds anywhere close to necessary to make the problem tractable, we're talking computational problems that are several orders of magnitude beyond computational speeds we can even imagine. In cryptanalysis, you don't, as a rule, ever hope that brute forcing will actually work against modern ciphers, you find some way to massively cut-down on the number of possibilities. There's some pattern to anything that isn't a one-time pad (or other ciphers mathematically equivalent to a one-time pad), so it really comes down to finding such a pattern. Usually, these patterns are disguised by mathematical manipulation as part of the cipher, but given how short these messages are, it'd be hard to hide much.

I'd also honestly wonder if there isn't some form of steganography involved. Clever steganography would render code-breaking completely useless and it isn't really particularly hard to come up with simple schemes. Less dramatic examples would be things like: the code actually deciphers to strings of numbers, only one of which is significant and only a handful of people would know how or why it's significant. Not only would the message remain hidden, code-breakers would have no way to know they'd solved the cipher. Remarkably simple and easy for a high-school dropout to devise.

TL;DR: These people are not bad at code-breaking and it's unlikely that they're simply failing to find a difficult code. It's more likely that the code is either mathematically (one-time pad) or logically (intelligent steganography) impossible to break.

It's the secret recipe to grandma's home made cookies. If he had of wrote it down unencoded he would have had his kneecaps broken.

I'm guessing this is going to be one of those horribly complicated multiple encrypted things i.e to encrypt it he did:

Plain text->encrypted once->encrypted text is then encrypted again->encrypted text is then ecrypted again and so on.

If that is the case then this could potentially never be solved without a way of either a) reading the guys mind for the memorized ciphers or b) finding a notebook or the like where he wrote down the keys. Seeing as the FBI has been on this case a while B is probably not a possibility.

Either way I just heard the sudden intake of breath from puzzle enthusiasts, hackers and mystery fans across the internet.

two pints of milk...tea bags...bacon...packet of toilet rolls...

What if they decode it and it just says "You spent years studying this, you fools!"

it says note to self buy more eggs.

This reminds me of the Zodiac Killer case, they never did get anything useful out of those things.

"Eat at Joe's"

1.It's the time-travel code bender from futurama uses to go back in time, but it only sent he consciousness and not his body.
2.It's a working universal key generator(to WoW-timecards, Microsoft programs, PC games that still use CD Keys)
3.P T R and SE seems to repeat a lot, he could be trying to rebuild a car and these are the VINs of parts the "Notes page" definitely says 36 miles 74Sprks and 99.84s Zune
4. The chemical formula for Ovaltine and process from cocoa plant to kitchen drink.

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