A 250-year-old German cipher was cracked by a team of experts recently. The 105 page manuscript of over 75,000-characters was cracked by Kevin Knight, a USC scientist and colleagues Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer of Uppsala University in Sweden.
According to a USC press release, the Copiale Cipher reveals the rituals and political leanings of an 18th-century secret society in Germany. Interestingly, the rituals detailed in the document indicate the society had a fascination with eye surgery and ophthalmology, though it seems members of the society were not eye doctors.
The team first transcribed a machine-readable version of the text using a computer program created by Knight to help quantify the occurrences of symbols and other patterns.
Then, without even knowing the language of the document, the team isolated Roman and Greek characters from the other abstract symbols and attacked it as the true code. After trying 80 languages, the cryptography team realized the Roman characters were intended to mislead the reader and it was the abstract symbols that held the message.
The team later found that the abstract symbols with similar shapes represented the same letter or groups of letters and found their first meaningful words of German, “Ceremonies of Initiation,”and “Secret Section.”
According to the release, currently, Knight is targeting other coded messages, including the serial murder, the Zodiac Killer’s ciphers. He frequently sent taunting messages to the press and has never been caught. Knight also is trying to break “Kryptos,” an encrypted message carved into a granite sculpture on the grounds of CIA headquarters, and the Voynich Manuscript, a medieval document that has baffled professional cryptographers for decades.