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Cryptographic Crimes

The Use of Cryptography in Real and Fictional Crimes


Marcel Danesi

This book examines the use of cryptography in both real and fictional crimes—a topic that is rarely broached. It discusses famous crimes, such as that of the Zodiac Killer, that revolve around cryptic messages and current uses of encryption that make solving cases harder and harder. It then draws parallels with the use of cryptography and secret writing in crime fiction, starting with Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, claiming that there is an implicit principle in all such writing—namely, that if the cryptogram is deciphered then the crime itself reveals its structure. The general conclusion drawn is that solving crimes is akin to solving cryptograms, as the crime fiction writers suggested. Cases of cryptographic crime, from unsolved cold cases to the Mafia crimes, are discussed and mapped against this basic theoretical assumption. The book concludes by suggesting that by studying cryptographic crimes the key to understanding crime may be revealed.
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4. Crime, Computers, and the Internet


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Chapter Four


Crime, Computers, and the Internet

Like gods, we have created a new universe called cyberspace that contains great good and ominous evil. We do not know yet if this new dimension will produce more monsters than marvels, but it is too late to go back.

David Horsey (b. 1951)


In April of 2015, a horrific murder in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana caught the attention of the world, not only because of its hideousness, but also because its solution hinged on deciphering the victim’s cellphone messages. The case concerned the brutal murder of twenty-nine-year-old Brittney Mills, who was pregnant at the time, and her son, Brenton who was barely nine years old.1 Authorities believed that Brittney had opened the door of her home to someone who had asked to use her car; she was shot multiple times when she refused. Doctors delivered her baby, but Brittney and Brenton died on May 1.

Because she willingly opened the door, the police believed that the victim likely knew her killer. So, they checked her cellphone for ← 77 | 78 → possible clues to his identity; but the phone used encryption software blocking anyone from accessing its data without a password. Investigators tried over and over, but were ultimately unsuccessful in so doing, turning the case into a cold one. Frustratingly, the critical part of evidence was likely lingering somewhere in cyberspace for someone to...

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