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An Encryption Tool for Really Big Secrets

Created: 01 Jul 2009 • Updated: 05 Nov 2012
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Brian Tokuyoshi - Product Marketing Manager

Are you working on some big secrets that you need to keep safe? I am talking about REALLY BIG ones.  Where can you get a tool that will handle your needs?

When I say “big secrets” I am actually referring to physical size, not sensitivity of the data. That’s because that a very large (13 foot long, 6 feet wide) device for encryption is now available on eBa.

At the RSA 2009 Conference in San Francisco, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage from the MythBusters television show provided an entertaining closing keynote speech. On the TV show, the duo act as skeptics of urban myths, and use large scale science experiments to test whether common beliefs hold water. At the conference, they used this device as part of their opening act.  Because it took up considerable room in their San Francisco workshop, they are now auctioning it off.

The "real" Cryptex is a fictional device that was made famous in the The Da Vinci Code. In the book, the Cryptex was not an encryption device, but rather an elaborate mechanical padlock/safe. It had a combination lock mechanism that required the user to turn the wheels to the correct phrase, which in turn allowed the safe to open. If the user entered the wrong combination, the lock mechanism broke a vial of acid that would destroy its contents, thus foiling any attempts at brute forcing the combination. (A bit of trivia, did you know that The Da Vinci Code also mentions Phil Zimmermann, the original author of PGP software? It’s a bit of real life injected into the fictional story).

The Cryptex that the MythBusters created for the RSA Conference only resembled the device from The Da Vinci Code in appearance, but not in function. It looks similar, because it used a similar method of entering the code (in this case the ciphertext). However, the MythBusters device was really no more than just a series of very large wheels used to generate ciphertext. There was no internal safe and no vial of acid that would destroy the message.

The MythBusters Cryptex has a set of 29 wheels, with each wheel containing characters of the alphabet in a different order (in addition to the characters of the alphabet, they also permitted the entry of spaces). Because it only has 29 wheels, it is only capable of encrypting 29 characters at a time. Encryption required the user to enter the plain text by spinning the corresponding wheel, and then taking the line of characters immediately above the plain text to create the cipher text. It is actually a polyalphabetic cipher, which doesn’t really require a device to implement. You could do the same thing with an alphabet table, which would achieve the same results but would be far less entertaining and dramatic as the full sized MythBusters device.

The encryption is neither practical nor portable, but you can’t beat how cool it would be to own a device constructed by the famous MythBusters crew.

Thanks to Mark Wahl for providing the news about the auction.