Monday, October 14, 2013

Code 5 : Pigpen / Masonic Cipher

Figure 1: Stone of James Leeson 1
Have you seen a code similar to this before?
An interesting example from real life is the stone of James Leeson, who died in 1792. For a long time, the box-and-dot code at the top of the stone (Figure 1) remained a mystery for the public, but the secret was revealed as Meyer Berger explained in his NY Times column in the 1950s, it was finally decrypted. It says: “Remember death”. It was a Masonic cipher.
The pigpen cipher or the Masonic/Freemason’s cipher is a simple encryption scheme used in the 16th century to secure correspondence between the Freemasons members. [2][3]
The cipher is created by replacing each letter of the alphabet with a symbol, therefore it is defined nowadays as a simple substitution cipher.
Symbols used in pigpen are created by drawing a grid like the one in Figure 2.

Figure 2: A typical example for a pigpen cipher key.
Based on the key (grid) in Figure 2
A sentence like “FREE WORLD” can be encrypted to be:
Fun exercise:
Question: Who was behind the invention of the frequency analysis technique for breaking monoalphabetic substitution ciphers?
(decrypt to find out)
To enhance security, let us choose a key such as “PEACE” and put it into the grid, Figure 3:

Figure 3
I excluded the last “E” in “PEACE” because no letter should be written twice. Now let’s fill in the rest of the letters and have our personalized grid

Figure 4
Although we can change the grid every time we use a different keyword, this encryption scheme is not secure as it used to be at its time, because the use of symbols is no impediment to modern cryptanalysis techniques.
At the end of this article, here is a gift for you:
Right Click on Figure 5 and choose Save Target As to download a Masonic Cipher & Symbols Font for your MS Word, so you could write the symbols easily and have fun with your friends.

Figure 5: Masonic Cipher & Symbols Font (4)

[2] David Kahn, “The Codebreakers. The Story of Secret Writing.” Macmillan, 1967.
[3] David E. Newton, “Freemason’s Cipher” in Encyclopedia of Cryptology, 1998.
[4] FAM-Code©

Pigpen / Masonic Cipher

Pigpen code chart
The pigpen cipher (sometimes called the masonic cipher or Freemason's cipher) is a simple substitution cipher exchanging letters for symbols based on a grid. The scheme was developed and used by the Freemasons in the early 1700s for record-keeping and correspondence. The example key shows one way the letters can be assigned to the grid.

Masonic Cipher Example 

 For encoding/decodingE


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