beanz Magazine

Navajo Code Talkers

Marine Corps New York on Flickr

Learn about the Native soldiers and the creative cypher code that helped win WWII.

For the past few issues, we’ve been covering very logical ciphers. These have used an encryption and decryption method that follows a strict set of rules. Just like programming, these ciphers have a logical means of being constructed, and are essentially a logic puzzle.

In the same way, a cipher that’s established on hard logic can be disassembled by working out the logic the cipher is built on. This was the job of many decryption computers over the course of history, such as the Enigma machine.

This is computers are very, very good at performing intensive logical operations quickly. It may take you a long time to calculate what 38 times 65 is, but a calculator will tell you instantly that the answer is 2470. This speed of calculation makes computers a great ally when trying to decrypt a code’s logic. However, what if a code isn’t based off of hard logic, but instead uses creativity as its basis? A computer can do maths problems very easily, but ask it to draw a picture and it will do a very bad job!

This was the case of the Navajo Code, a cipher used during World War 2 that was never deciphered. The reason for this was simple; the code itself was based on creative interpretation of objects rather than a straight logical code.

The code was based on the Navajo language, which doesn’t use a writing system and very few people in the world knew how to speak it. It obfuscated itself further by using creative definitions for different aspects of war. For example, they didn’t call a cruiser a ‘cruiser’ in Navajo language; instead, they called it a ‘small whale’. Even if the enemy managed to decipher the Navajo language, all they’d hear is people talking about whales!

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