Today is the first day of the Coursera Cyrptography class taught by Stanford Professor, Dan Boneh. I follow courses like this every once in a while in order to learn a bit about topics that I would not otherwise get any exposure to. Boneh’s course is a little math-intense, but there is another more concept-driven course on the same topic being offered on Khan Academy. If you haven’t taken advantage of either of these two sites, you should look into them. Both are entirely free, and both are taught by excellent educators.
Here’s a video from the Khan Academy site introducing the Caesar Cipher, a simple cipher like those used on radio dramas of the past (get your secret decoder ring!).
If you want to crack a simple substitution cipher like this, you might want to start by using a frequency chart of letters used in the English language, like this one:
However, once you figure out the easiest letters (e,t,and a), things get a bit more difficult. At this point, you will probably have to start looking at letter pairings (Bigrams) to see if any useful patterns show up there. Here’s a listing of the most common Bigrams (again, in English).
It’s interesting that these kinds of codes might ever have been considered sophisticated enough to use in the real world. After all, it’s easy to find examples of these types of ciphers in daily newspapers around the world presented as cryptograms that people do for fun.
KT RPP EXRDJ PXZ’J KX BOXD EVDIXI,
KSZ DBZ JB BOXD EVDIXI ZQRZ BSA KARVDJ YRPP BSZ.