Back in 1992, sci-fi futurist and console cowboy cyberpunk William Gibson of Neuromancer fame helped come up with a puzzle that has been puzzling computer cryptographers ever since.
At the 1992 Meeting of the Americas Society, a 3.5-inch disk meant to run on a Mac PowerBook was distributed alongside a limited print noir art book by Dennish Ashbaugh and Kevin Begos, Jr. On the disk was an unknown poem Gibson had penned called “Agrippa (a book of the dead)”. When the disk was plugged into a PowerBook, the text of the poem was displayed exactly once… and then a script on the disk caused the poem to be permanently scrambled so it could never be read again.
Two decades later, one cryptography student is trying to get to the bottom of how it all works.
Quinn DuPont, a University of Toronto PhD student of cryotography, has set up a blog called Cracking The Agrippa Code, in which he’s put together an image file of the disk and a Mac System 7 emulator as resources for computer programmers trying to figure out how the self-destruct script works.
The first person to successfully crack the code will win a copy of every William Gibson book ever published (except Agrippa). Every runner-up will have their name (if provided) posted on this website. To win you must submit a technical description of your cryptanalysis below, under Creative Commons usage rights (the results of which will be used to further research on Agrippa). The technical description should explain what kind of encryption is used (if any), how it functions, and how it was reversed or cracked (and what the key is, if there is one). Should there be no encryption at all (a possibility), or should the application merely “scramble” or “destroy” the data, this must be technically demonstrated or proved. Since the plain text is known, the cryptanalysis is purely for fun and academic curiosity, and thus the description should provide technical details.
Looks like a fun bit of ephemera for the technically minded. If you want to help out, head on down to the link below.
Here’s a video of the program in action.
Source: Cracking Agrippa
Via: Ars Technica