Kryptos is a unique sculpture located at the center of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, installed by Washington DC artist Jim Sanborn in 1990, and covered with a four-part encrypted puzzle that was intended as a challenge to the employees at the CIA. Since 2003, the sculpture's fame has been increasing since hints pointing to it were hidden in the bookjacket of the U.S. hardcover edition of Dan Brown's bestseller, The Da Vinci Code.
The sculpture stood at its location in the CIA central courtyard for several years, seemingly unsolvable, until in 1999, a California computer scientist, Jim Gillogly, announced that he had cracked the first three parts. After his announcement, two government intelligence agencies announced that they too had internal solvers who had also figured out the first three sections, but no one, in or outside of the intelligence agencies, had yet been able to figure out part four, which is now on the list of the world's most famous unsolved codes.
The decrypted text, including known spelling errors, is as follows. Part 1 of Kryptos decrypts to the sentence:
"Between subtle shading and the absence of light lies the nuance of iqlusion"
Part 2 was originally thought to say:
"It was totally invisible. How's that possible? They used the earth's magnetic field. x The information was gathered and transmitted undergruund to an unknown location. x Does Langley know about this? They should: it's buried out there somewhere. x Who knows the exact location? Only WW. This was his last message: x Thirty-eight degrees fifty-seven minutes six point five seconds North, seventy-seven degrees eight minutes forty-four seconds West. ID by rows."
Part 3 is believed to say:
"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 left-hand 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 Kryptos Group went into a flurry of activity concerning the new information, and derived another possible answer for that section via a slightly modified method. Instead of "... forty-four seconds west. ID by rows," they thereby came up with a technique that generated the text, "... forty-four seconds west. x Layer Two".
They presented the new solution to Sanborn, and he confirmed that it was indeed the correct answer to K2, but refused to reveal anything more than that.
With these types of polyalphabetic systems, the exact location of each letter in the ciphertext is important. It is not like a simple substitution system where one or more letters can be removed or even scrambled, without affecting the decipherment of the remaining letters in the message. In polyalphabetic systems, each letter is decrypted, not only by what it is, but where it is in the ciphertext, and changing the order can have disastrous consequences. Because a letter had been removed from the ciphertext, this caused the remaining characters to not be decipherable by the same system. However, by sheer chance, instead of the remaining characters showing up as what they were, garbage text, they randomly aligned into something that appeared to be English: idbyrows, which was accidentally accepted as the correct answer. According to Sanborn, when he heard CIA analyst David Stein read off "ID by rows" in 1998 (interview with Stein) (Stein's solution), he thought Stein was saying some crypto jargon about decryption technique -- not that Stein was presenting what he thought to be actual plaintext.
Gillogly's 1999 solution had the same problem. However, on April 19th, 2006, perhaps because Sanborn saw the plaintext of Kryptos presented in a new book by Kryptos Group co-moderator Elonka Dunin, he realized that the public perception was that the "ID BY ROWS" phrase was the actual answer, so he alerted the Kryptos Group that they still had work to do yet. Group members quickly discussed the problem, and applied different techniques to change the final section, thereby discovering that inserting a null character (in final analysis, a ciphertext "s") in the 9th position before the end of K2, generated a different English plaintext for the final nine letters. Instead of "IDBYROWS", it became "XLAYERTWO". This occurred because inserting the null character, shifted all the ciphertext letters after it back into correct position, so that they were back "in phase" with the ABSCISSA key. Sanborn has confirmed that the new answer is the correct one.
?OBKR UOXOGHULBSOLIFBBWFLRVQQPRNGKSSO TWTQSJQSSEKZZWATJKLUDIAWINFBNYP VTTMZFPKWGDKZXTJCDIGKUHUAUEKCAR
VFPJUDEEHZWETZYVGWHKKQETGFQJNCE GGWHKK?DQMCPFQZDQMMIAGPFXHQRLG TIMVMZJANQLVKQEDAGDVFRPJUNGEUNA QZGZLECGYUXUEENJTBJLBQCRTBJDFHRR YIZETKZEMVDUFKSJHKFWHKUWQLSZFTI HHDDDUVH?DWKBFUFPWNTDFIYCUQZERE EVLDKFEZMOQQJLTTUGSYQPFEUNLAVIDX FLGGTEZ?FKZBSFDQVGOGIPUFXHHDRKF FHQNTGPUAECNUVPDJMQCLQUMUNEDFQ ELZZVRRGKFFVOEEXBDMVPNFQXEZLGRE DNQFMPNZGLFLPMRJQYALMGNUVPDXVKP DQUMEBEDMHDAFMJGZNUPLGEWJLLAETG
You will see the decoded text change to:
Which makes the complete answer to K2:
IT WAS TOTALLY INVISIBLE. HOW'S THAT POSSIBLE? THEY USED THE EARTH'S MAGNETIC FIELD. X THE INFORMATION WAS GATHERED AND TRANSMITTED UNDERGRUUND TO AN UNKNOWN LOCATION. X DOES LANGLEY KNOW ABOUT THIS? THEY SHOULD. IT'S BURIED OUT THERE SOMEWHERE. X WHO KNOWS THE EXACT LOCATION? ONLY WW. THIS WAS HIS LAST MESSAGE. X THIRTY-EIGHT DEGREES FIFTY-SEVEN MINUTES SIX POINT FIVE SECONDS NORTH. SEVENTY-SEVEN DEGREES EIGHT MINUTES FORTY-FOUR SECONDS WEST. X LAYER TWO.
For any questions, or to obtain contact information for interviews, please contact one of the Kryptos Group moderators: