4 secret codes that are almost impossible to break

The Enigma machine
The Enigma Machine | Image: Shutterstock

Simple puzzles and brain teasers can be an enjoyable pastime, but the world’s most challenging codes can be as serious as matter of life and death. Using cyphers, symbols, and other combinations of characters, there have been many fascinating examples of codes created for various reasons. Many codes can leave us with more questions than answers, and they are almost always shrouded in mystery.

To get you in the mood for Cracking the Code as part of Summer of Secrets, here are some fascinating examples of secret codes, some of which are still yet to be broken.

Zodiac Killer

Terrifying as well as compelling, a serial killer who gave himself the name ‘Zodiac’ murdered at least five people in California in the 1960s and 1970s. The killer taunted the world by sending many terrifying messages to the press, using a cypher to substitute different letters and symbols.

He sent the first letters to newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area, and they all held different parts of the cypher. The papers all chose to print his messages as he threatened more murderous activity if they didn’t follow his instructions. Breaking the ‘Zodiac Code’ is something people still attempt. Several different computer programmers and mathematicians claim to have cracked parts of the cryptic code, but the FBI states that the case officially remains open.

The Beale Papers

The Beale Papers are a set of three cyphers that allegedly lead to buried treasure. A real adventurer’s dream, the cyphers remain unsolved, yet people still attempt to find the solution regularly. The treasure at the heart of the Beale Papers is said to be worth in excess of $43 million.

The story behind this code comes from an 1885 pamphlet called The Beal Papers that lays out treasure buried by Thomas J. Beale in a secret location in Bedford County, Virginia. Many people have attempted to decode the ciphertexts, but no one has ever been successful. There are plenty of cynics that claim the whole affair is a hoax, but how will we know until someone cracks the code?

The Enigma Code

The Enigma Code was a cypher generated by the Enigma Machine. It played a crucial role in intercepting Nazi communications during World War II. It was used to encrypt highly classified messages that were transmitted to the Nazi forces using Morse code. The Enigma Code was deemed uncrackable due to more than 15,000,000,000,000,000,000 possibilities needing to be generated before reaching the correctly deciphered code.

Alan Turing is the name we all recognise when thinking about Enigma (though his work owed a lot to Polish cryptographers) as he and his team found weaknesses in the code, accessed German codebooks and developed the Bombe machine. This machine was able to crack some of the most challenging versions of Enigma. Cracking the Enigma Code is still considered one of the greatest victories in modern warfare.

Diana Dors Hidden Fortune

Not the most likely of cases, but amazingly, Hollywood starlet Diana Dors did share a secret code before her death in 1982. She handed a piece of paper with over 300 pencilled-in letters to her son and told him the code would reveal a £2 million fortune she had hidden away. She told her son that her husband, Alan Lake, had the password to unravel the code. Unfortunately, tragedy struck again, as Lake died by suicide a few months after Dors herself.

Since then, many people have attempted to unravel Dors’ secret code. Computer forensic specialists have worked to decipher the code but suggested a page was missing as there were no clear indicators of where the fortune may be.

Cracking one of the world’s most challenging secret codes could change the world, help win a war, or even lead to an amazing personal fortune. There is always the chance that a secret code could simply be a hoax, but when there is an unimaginable treasure up for grabs, perhaps it’s worth the effort.

Cracking the Code starts on Monday, 15th August at 9pm as part of Summer of Secrets on Sky HISTORY.