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FBI Overwhelmed With 'Solutions' To Encrypted Note 137

Posted by timothy
from the hey-bub-you-asked-for-it dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Recently the FBI asked for the public's help in solving the encryption in a note linked to a man's murder. Well, they got so much 'help' it has overwhelmed the agency's phone and email systems. Dan Olson, chief of the FBI's Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU), urged potential code-breakers to send their tips via mail rather than sending emails or flooding phone lines. 'We don't have the bandwidth to handle the emails we're getting,' Olson told FoxNews.com on Thursday. 'We're getting a bunch [of responses].' Suggested solutions range from a list of the dead man's medication schedule to instructions from a computer repair technician: 'He is speaking to a computer tech on how to fix his computer,' one message read."
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FBI Overwhelmed With 'Solutions' To Encrypted Note

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  • by fragfoo (2018548) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @08:29AM (#35693028)
    to be slashdotted.
    • Am I really the ONLY person who thought of House M.D. Epic Fail (season six) when the initial story made it to slashdot?

      It's the episode with the guy who posts all new symptoms on the internet, resulting in the hospital phones, faxes, emails getting overwhelmed by people sending 'their suggestions'...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 02, 2011 @08:29AM (#35693030)

    "Told us it was something to do with drinking Ovaltine. I don't really get it."

  • by Chris_Stankowitz (612232) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @08:33AM (#35693040)

    How is it easier to handle snail mail than it is e-mail? How does one grep snail mail for starters?

    CS-

    • by VolciMaster (821873) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @08:38AM (#35693048) Homepage
      Well, for one it will mean folks doing just for the heck of it will likely not - the inconvenience of needing an envelope and postage would turn off many, I think.

      OTOH, it's a good way to get the USPS some extra business :)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's a trick. They're trying to fingerprint you!

      In all seriousness though, send those nice folk some money in mail, they must be in dire straits if they can't even afford the bandwidth for e-mail.

      • Money for nothing?
      • by DarkOx (621550)

        might not be computer bandwidth. It might be the agents don't have the time to look through all the crackpot submissions and are hopeful the added hurdle of having to actually mail something will be enough to limit the responses from the people who are truly crazy, have the actual solution, or have a useful part of one. As I recall the notes was broken in parts which were circled, that could mean each uses a different key for instance and a partial solution might have solved just one key.

        At any rate it s

    • by GaryOlson (737642)
      Send them 7G of data on a DVD....encrypted.
      Just to be safe, send the key by an independent method -- email them the decryption key. Use a subject "Use this key to solve the mystery".
    • They probably have more physical storage space than e-storage. They could pile it in the corner and review it at their leisure.

      "P.S.: Please forgive the lateness of my reply." - Ringo Starr
      • by Dunbal (464142) *

        They probably have more physical storage space than e-storage.

        You're joking right? I can get a 2TB hard drive on Amazon for under $100 and I guarantee you it can fit more "letters" than any given warehouse you care to choose.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          how many FBI agents does it take to hook up a 2TB hard drive?.......One to fill out the requisition, one to process the requisition, one to disapprove it, one to resubmit with proper justification, one to approve it, one to disapprove it for lack of funding, one to resubmit with justification and cost savings description, one to approve it, one to note that the request wasn't on FBI letterhead, one to retype and resubmit, one to be reassigned to some task force, one to note that last year's funding line to

          • Excellent analysis, Mr AC, but you forgot that this agent now has to get authorization to connect his new 2TB HD to a federal computer system.

            It ain't over yet.
            • by mindwhip (894744)

              You also forgot the rejection cycle for it not being encrypted... followed by the rejection cycles for purchasing the required encryption software...

        • Warehouse would store more than a single 2TB drive-- 2TB of data @ 250kb per PDF is 8m letters. Im pretty sure your local grocery store could hold 8m letters.

          • by Rob Kaper (5960)

            At 100g/m2 paper thickness is 0.097mm.

            2 TB / 250kB per page is 8 million pages, for a total thickness of 776 meter. The ordinary Federal filing cabinet has five 710mm drawers which means 1093 filing cabinets.

            But 250kB per page is rather large even for PDF, at a quite typical 300ppi you're closer to 50kB/page. So make that 5480 filing cabinets.

            Then consider that most tips will be text-based (e-mails and telephone transcripts), not graphics or bloated document attachments. in which case you should easily be a

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        If that is the case then it is pretty damned sad and I think the FBI needs a good auditing to see where all the money they've been handed has gone. Because surely they have the tech to take the contents of an email, compare the text to the cypher, and ring a little bell if X number of words fit the pattern? After all isn't that how the old Bombe system worked in the 1940s?

        That said I think they need to just file 13 the whole damned thing, as the likelihood of solving this with so little information to go

        • by swalve (1980968)
          Are you nuts? This isn't star trek or CSI where they can just tell the computer to cross reference pile a with pile b. They would need rooms full of people sanitizing the inputs and a room full of computers to do the work.
    • Management runs FBIT over 15 years 5 major multi-billions of failures in automation of field+HQ offices.

      What is easier for many on /. may be near impossible for the FBI.

      The FBI field and lab folks are very good, but they don't set policy on what FBIT will do. Many are isolated from collaboration, aggregation... with other FBI peers.

      Management is in charge of failure at the strategic level, because strategy is policy and plan without tactical actuality.

      IOW: Any idiot can plan from the top down, but only th

    • With scanners and OCR.

  • ... where every crackpot has a "theory" and all the others have it wrong. Where we're all being poisoned by chemtrails, where we never landed on the Moon, and where, if you have the tinfoil adjusted just so, you can stop the alien greys from tracking you and giving you anal probes in your sleep.

    And where every fruitcake has an answer to the Voynich Manuscript, so a couple of pages or two of code should be "easy"

    *hysterical Vincent Price laughter here*

    --
    BMO

    • by rednip (186217)

      I had to look up 'chemtrails', when I found a site that described them. Apparently, some are attaching sinister plots to water vapor trails from jet engines. From that site, I've pasted below likely the most 'telling' part of the tale:

      I experienced that wake-up call in February of 1998. I had taken my 35 mm camera with me to the monthly meeting of the Orange County Chapter of the American Society of Dowsers and after the meeting, I had stopped off at a supermarket. After getting out of the car, I photographed for the very first time, the strange looking "contrails" that William Thomas had been describing on the Art Bell radio program a couple of weeks earlier.

  • This being FoxNews, it's debatable whether there is actually any Dan Olson who works on the FBI. If there is, it's hard to know what he really told FoxNews. Assuming the report is accurate, is interesting that "a bunch of responses" is "flooding the FBI's bandwidth".
    • by 3vi1 (544505)

      It must be reliable, the guys at Fox are geniuses...

      [...]according to emails sent to FoxNews.com[...]

      "He is speaking to a computer tech on how to fix his computer," one message read. "He is trying to write down the instruction as the tech tells him."

      ...that apparently can't recognize a joke when they read it.

    • by jav1231 (539129)
      Yeah, because this is JUST the kind of story one would use to discredit the Obama administration. Idiot.
    • by corbettw (214229)

      Wow. It's one thing to say that FoxNews spins things to a certain political viewpoint (which I think everyone acknowledges they do). But to make up outright fabrications? That's a pretty bold statement. Do you have any evidence supporting the notion that the do?

      • by Anonymous Coward
        How many palm trees [wonkette.com] have you seen in Wisconsin?
      • It's one thing to say that FoxNews spins things to a certain political viewpoint (which I think everyone acknowledges they do

        Which, if people are being honest, ALL the media outlets do...

        But of course, its only bias if you disagree with it, right?

  • Or were most something like, "It was Professor Plum! In the conservatory! With the lead pipe!

    • That is what it sounds like to me too. Morons are just suggesting possibilities of what it could be rather than actually solving the problem.

      That's what happens when you involve the general population of idiots.

      • And yet, on every article, countless armchair scholars pontificate on how such and such experts are wrong, or how the proper course of action is this and that...

        How is this any different?

        • by danlock4 (1026420)

          I had an excellent reply ready to type, but then I realized that you had written armchair scholars and not armpit scholars, so my superb reply is no longer superb. *sniff* (pun intended!)

    • by rilister (316428) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @10:55AM (#35693478)

      Well, I don't think anyone knows yet, but the 'medication schedule' reference probably refers to this comment hanging off this Yahoo News article that I personally found pretty convincing (sorry - I don't know how to link to the comment directly, but it's from 'John')
      http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110329/ts_yblog_thelookout/fbi-asks-public-for-help-breaking-encrypted-notes-tied-to-1999-murder#mwpphu-container [yahoo.com]

      I checked out the reference (since removed, oddly) that people who are bipolar often keep long-term records of medication schedules and effects (page 2) and historic record of major 'episodes' (page 1) so that they can use them to try and build a personalized medication schedule over time on a bipolar support forum, and it checks out. It's also true that people with bipolar disorder are encouraged to keep them secret, and so would be like to keep coded versions of these notes in case they were found.

      ----
      (from the comment - 'John')

      It is a shorthand log of historic episodes in the mid seventies on (page 1, actually written second, but numbered one to keep events in chrono order) and medications taken with the effects listed. The key at the end is day week month year morning day latenight. It was started on page 2 and then page 1 was added as a log of the earlier childhood which is the basis for diagnosis and the "page 2" is indepth records of changes in meds. The 3 month periods are normal with bipolar episodes in the 4th QTR (September through December in the seventies. These seasons suggest seasonal disorder.

      ALPNTE GLSE-SE ERTE

      A: Latenight, Phenergan, taken in evening G: Latenight Serenace/Seroquel or Seroquel/Serenace Extended Release Taken Evening

      VLSE MTSE-CTSE-WSE-FRTSE
      V: Late Serenace Morning take Serenace

      On page 1 are lists of manic episodes

      (FLRSEPRSEONDE71NCBE)

      From late september really severe episode on December 1971: No cause before episode
      (CDNSEPRSEONSF/DE74NCBE)

      Chronic Depression in September, really severe episode on the start of December in 1974, no cause before episode

      26MLSE74SPRKSE29KENOSOLE173R7RSE

      2x 6mg Serenace in 1974 or 2x 600mg Seroquel in 1974
      99-84.B2UNEPLSENCRSEAOLTSENSKSENRSE

      1999 through 1988
      NSREOUSEPUTSEWLDUCBE(3XORL)

      D-W-M-YH/MD/IL XDRLX
      Day weekday month year: morning day or latenight

      --- (further comment from 'John')
      I'm bipolar and we are told to keep such logs in short-hand because, though we are protected by laws, we are told to stay in the closet, because so many violent crimes are caused by bipolars. If we just came out of the closet, people might realize that those of us who are medicated are fully functional and safe. And we are 2 to 10 % of the population, possibly from recent environmental and stress related aggrevators. But it does take very detailed traking to get our medication right and knowing the triggers is key: week days might relate to work triggers, months to seasonal disorder and times of day are critical to knowing when to take meds and how much. The nature of this note suggests that he is having an episode and is thinking faster than he can write.

      • by Dan East (318230)

        Some of that does seem to fit, but I think it's a stretch in other areas. Documenting back to 1974, 1971, etc, in that detail on the spur of the moment is highly unlikely. If keeping records is that important then that information would have already been documented, and not jotted down randomly at a whim 30 years later. Those numbers (74, 71) likely have another meaning. The 3XORL fits with taking a med 3 times orally, but I'd think someone that into prescription meds would use actual medical terminolog

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The whole thing about keeping it all secret seems a bit over the top to me. The part about bipolar people tending to be violent thus using codes to prevent evidence from being used against them in court is, well, rather far-fetched. I'm sure some do that, but he makes it sound like that's commonplace.

          There was no part about that, so no wonder it's far-fetched. There was a part about bipolar people suffering prejudice due to some violent crimes, and using codes to prevent anyone who sees them jotting stuff from realizing they're bipolar.

      • by danlock4 (1026420)

        It is a shorthand log of historic episodes in the mid seventies on (page 1, actually written second, but numbered one to keep events in chrono order) and medications taken with the effects listed. The key at the end is day week month year morning day latenight. It was started on page 2 and then page 1 was added as a log of the earlier childhood which is the basis for diagnosis and the "page 2" is indepth records of changes in meds. The 3 month periods are normal with bipolar episodes in the 4th QTR (September through December in the seventies. These seasons suggest seasonal disorder.

        ALPNTE GLSE-SE ERTE

        A: Latenight, Phenergan, taken in evening G: Latenight Serenace/Seroquel or Seroquel/Serenace Extended Release Taken Evening

        VLSE MTSE-CTSE-WSE-FRTSE
        V: Late Serenace Morning take Serenace

        Seroquel wasn't approved by the FDA until 1997, and Serenace I can find records of only as a drug used internationally for animals... although its primary ingredient, haloperidol, was FDA-approved in 1967 or so as the drug Haldol. So ... Serenace is more likely than Seroquel, which didn't exist in the 1970s...

        (pedant mode off)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 02, 2011 @08:46AM (#35693074)

    My girlfriend is about 5’7”, weighs around 130 and has brown hair and brown eyes. She is white and while she’s not fat, she is a tiny bit overweight. She has a huge round butt which is very soft.

    My first experience with it was in the forest on a walk, she let me kneel behind her and put my nose in her jeans-clad butt to sniff it for a few seconds. She got nervous stopped.

    Later, she farted on the couch- It was a small rip, and she stood up so that I could sniff it. It had hardly any smell to it, and she looked embarrassed. Later still, she stopped on the stairs with me behind her and let me put my nose between her cheeks again. I felt her pushing to try and fart, and I felt a tiny bubble, but it didn’t stink. At night, she sat on my face in jeans and rubbed her butthole over my nose. I could smell a fart, but I didn’t hear it. I also followed her outside when she told me she had to fart and knelt behind her and buried my face in her jeans. She let out a five-second silent fart, and I sniffed- It was weak, but still very eggy.

    The next day she woke me up and sat on my face for about 5 seconds in her pajamas, which where pink and very soft, letting my nose press up against her butthole and her cheeks spread over my face. I sniffed, and it smelled slightly like rotten eggs. Later she told me that she had farted just before she sat down. Later in the morning she told me she had to fart and lifted up her butt off the couch. I knelt down and put my nose under her raised cheek, which wasn’t high enough for me to get my nose to the source. I heard a long rumble and I sniffed, and It smelled earthy and eggy. She did another quiet one that I sniffed like that for about 30 seconds. She went to the bathroom and let me smell the air afterwards. It smelled eggy and poopy, and I stayed until the smell dissipated, which took about 10 minutes.

    The next day, we went to a store for nerdy things like DnD and other such stuff. While there, I heard her rip a quiet fart. I stayed in the area and the terrible eggy scent wafted up to me, and lasted about 30 seconds. She was embarrassed to fart in public. She did another in a jewelry store, but it was silent. It stunk just as bad, and I think the person working smelled it.

    Later, she decided to play some video games, and while she was playing I would sniff her butt every now and again. She said she had to fart, so I picked up a stuffed cow and she sat on it and let it rip quietly. I sniffed it, and it was eggy and trapped in the fabric. she said “Does it smell good?” I offered her the cow, and she sniffed it and made a face of disgust. Once when I was sniffing, she ripped a very stinky fart that smelled like rotten eggs and onions- It was a two parter that went Bluurp bruuuunt- and I sniffed it from her jeans. I told her how stinky they were and she laughed. Then I felt her clench her cheeks, and a quiet but very bubbly fart came out and she said “I did another one!”

    When we were in the car, she would fart on my hand and then let me sniff it. Once after Italian food, she rolled up the window and ripped a loud raspy one. The whole car filled up with an eggy smell, and she said “Don’t look at me after I fart!”.

    She gave me a good face-fart in her pajamas- She
    Stood in front of me and I twisted so she could sit on my nose. She sat and spread her butt cheeks apart and ripped a silent fart that stunk of eggs. She let go of her bottom and her asscheeks spread over my face, sealing my nose in her stinky fart. It was even more intense when she let her butt spread over my face, it smelled three times as bad. She did another one a few minutes later and it was even longer, and I could feel the heat on my face. At the end, it made a rasp, low-pitched squeak. “Did you hear the squeak?” she asked, as she settled her butt over my face.
    She ripped a terrible one on the couch- She was mid sit when she stopped and let out a four-second series of juicy pops and cracks.

  • Pretty funny to see slashdotters in the previous thread talking about these notes and falling into the typical tv trap. Perhaps this was the real test... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vxq9yj2pVWk [youtube.com]
    • by Anonymous Coward

      In this case the originals are available so a more detailed scan is easily possible. The scans are relatively low resolution making it easier to misinterpret one symbol for another. It is understandable that a more detailed image would be desired.

  • but we do have the bandwidth to stick our noses in everyone elses business..
  • It's all just an elaborate plot to get your fingerprints off the letters /sarcasm
    • by PPH (736903)
      Actually, the "please reply by mail" ploy exposes suspects/accomplices to further charges of mail fraud should the FBI need to lean on someone.
  • Can someone please Wiki this so that there can be some systematic collaboration?

    • This. We haven't broken it, but there is definitive progress. The thread at Bruce Scheier's has best signal to noise ratio, there only one in ten try to make jokes about ovaltine, compared to one in three elsewhere.

  • Now publish all the solutions and ask the crowd to winnow the wheat from the chaff too. Jeez! Guys, haven't you heard of recursion at all?
    • by McGiraf (196030)

      recursion?

      I don't think this word means what you think. First to understand recursion you have to understand recursion.

      • by Dunbal (464142) *

        I don't think this word means what you think. First to understand recursion you have to understand recursion.

        See this post [slashdot.org] and its reply for a better understanding of recursion.

    • by McGiraf (196030)

      Or by re-reading you post, you do. And I need coffee.

  • 'We don't have the bandwidth to handle the emails we're getting,' Olson told FoxNews.com on Thursday."

    I've warned people for years that email is for PLAIN TEXT! Not some crappy blinky crap.

    Now get outta my inbox!

    --
    pass

  • If the encryptor was using a one time pad any solution would be correct for one possible key.

    • by blincoln (592401)

      "If the encryptor was using a one time pad any solution would be correct for one possible key."

      Yes, but based on the repeating content in the notes ("NCBE", etc.), it seems unlikely that it was a one-time pad, unless it's for a funny encoding where multiple characters in a row in the ciphertext actually represent a single character in the plaintext (but not always the same single character, of course). I'm sure the FBI would have picked up any sort of common substitution cipher, so the suggestion that it's

  • First rule: Details of the cyper used. I don't think they care for a quick piss in the wind what it could contain, write down the way you decrypted it, show us the cypher, if you can't do that we don't want to hear from you. Sending us a piss in the wind version of "I think it could be..." will be treated like spamming us.

    Betcha that would have lowered the noise by about 99%.

  • Didn't they think of asking NSA about the encryption?
  • You shouldn't post this online. Sony is gonna sue :o

  • We don't have the bandwidth to handle emails, but we do have plenty of labor available to open and analyze mail by hand?

    The FBI doesn't have the bandwidth? Should I sign them up for a google account? Who do they think they're kidding? How much of the country's email are they already scanning?

    Is this a leftover April Fools Day article?

  • Shannon's notion of unicity distance is the length of the shortest ciphertext needed to rule out all but one possible decryption. The theoretical estimate of unicity distance depends on the entropy of the key space and the amount of redundancy in the plaintext. In this case, though, the "key" includes the cipher, since it is also unknown, and nothing is really known about the plaintext. Under reasonable assumptions about both, it's likely that the unicity distance (if it could be calculated) is significa

  • is successful.

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