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Cracking Secret Codes

Figure out how to break codes as you learn about encryption and how to keep secret info safe.

Before you run this activity with a group of members, you may want to print out copies of the Caesar Cipher Code worksheet 

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

Computer
WiFiInternet
 

STEP 1
TIME: 5 MINUTES

Encryption

If you needed to pass a message to someone else, but you wanted to make sure everything you sent to them stayed private, what would you do?

Have you ever used a “code word” for something you want to keep secret? Have you ever heard of someone using a code or cypher to pass along a secret message? How did it work?

People encrypt all kinds of secret information. To learn about the brilliant codebreakers who cracked the Enigma code used by the Germans during World War II, watch this video

Encryption isn’t only for sending secret messages during a war. Computers also encrypt information to keep your information private. What types of websites do you think use encryption to keep your information secure?

Challenge members to decode this message: 9-5-12-12-15! If they are struggling, give them a hint that “2-1-4” means “BAD” in the code.

Start a conversation about secret codes and code words. When have members used a code word or heard of people using a secret code?

If you want to talk about the history of encryption, you could show this video about Alan Turing, the famous codebreaker who cracked the Enigma code used by the Germans during World War II.

Challenge your members do define encryption, which is a way of scrambling information to keep it safe from those who shouldn’t be able to access it.

Tip: The National Security Agency uses codes to keep the country safe. Check out the CryptoKids website, http://www.nsa.gov/kids/home.shtml and try one or more of the games. This are available from the website at Home > Games and Activities.


STEP 2
TIME: 25 MINUTES

Cracking Encrypted Codes

Are you ready to learn an ancient cipher code? This code is a substitution cipher and it was used by Roman emperor Julius Caesar. In a substitution cipher, letters are replaced by other letters, e.g., A = B, B = C, and so on. If that sounds confusing, try writing out the rest of the alphabet like this:

(ADD TABLE)

Try the Caesar Cipher Code worksheet yourself.

Tell your members that Julius Caesar, an emperor from ancient Rome, used to code all of his private messages so that people wouldn’t read them. He used a code called the Caesar Cipher in which each letter of the alphabet shifted forward or backwards a certain number of times to represent a different letter.

Click here to get a printable version of the Caesar Cipher. The answers are included in this document, too!

STEP 3
TIME:

Create Your Own Coded Message

Choose a code you want to use to send a friend a message. You could use the Caesar shift, or you might create your own substitution code, where each letter of the alphabet is represented by a different letter, number, or symbol.

Start by deciding on your code and then write the coded message. Share it with other Club members and see who can crack your code.

You could facilitate this activity as a full group challenge. First, make sure that everyone understands the Caesar shift. If there is still some confusion, try this:

Write the alphabet on a whiteboard or large sheet of paper. Label it “real”

Underneath it, right the “shifted forward once” version. Label it “code”

ADD TABLE

Now, pick a simple word like “BAD” and ask everyone to code the word. (CBE)

Try another easy one, like “CAGE” (DBHF)

Now, remind members that this is the “shifted one time” code, but they could choose a code that was shifted twice, three times, four times, etc.

Ask all of your members to write a short, funny message in code (no more than 10 words).

Have all your members pass the code to someone else in the room and let the codebreaking begin.


STEP 4
TIME: 5 MINUTES

Badge Credit/Save to Portfolio

Want to earn a star for this activity? Upload your secret message and challenge other Club members to crack the code!
Members can upload and share their coded messages to earn a star.

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