Apr. 20, 2006

Can you keep a secret?

I was recently pleased to read that mafia "godfather" Bernardo Provenzano, on the run since 1963, had been captured. Amongst the many murders he carried out or arranged were two prominent Italian judges. Of course it says something about the complicity of the Italian police that he was able to remain free for so long. He only communicated with his wife and underlings by coded messages on scraps of paper called "pizzini".

Today I was tickled to read that these trusted "pizzini" were encoded with a variation of the Caesar cipher (yes, that Caesar). The code boiled down to changing letters to numbers and adding 3. So "A" becomes 4, "B" becomes 5, etc. Profoundly simple... So simple that even I created an playful encryption program a few years ago that used the same technique. I called it Pretty Lousy Privacy (a nod to a popular method called Pretty Good Privacy). It's only purpose was to mildly annoy recipients.

Today the Caesar cypher it is worse than useless because it can be broken in minutes with nothing more than a pencil but ignorant people might trust it anyway. Provenzano trusted it enough to write down the names of his criminal associates. It's nice to see feared criminals revealed as bumbling idiots!

Listening to: Let's Get Retarded by Black Eyed Peas from Elephunk.

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