Elonka and Klaus are happy to speak in various venues. We have decades of experience and have dozens of prepared talks or can create new ones depending on your needs. We have spoken to all kinds of audiences, including universities, government agencies, gaming conventions, IT conferences, and junior high school students.

We can be booked separately or together. Of course, during the pandemic we prefer remote presentations, but if you wish to contact us about in-person presentations in future years, please let us know.

Elonka Dunin has given over a hundred presentations on a wide variety of topics to an equally wide variety of audiences, from teenagers to seasoned professionals, at locations from classrooms at West Point Military Academy, to local high schools, to major universities, to packed ballrooms at the 60,000-person Dragon Con fan convention, and many others: geocaching events, hacker cons, Mensa meetings, game developer meetings, ShmooCon, Def Con, government agencies such as the CIA and NSA, and more, including a TEDx talk in 2021, “2000 years of ordinary secrets“. Check Elonka’s website for a list of her past and upcoming presentations

She can be reached at elonka.codebreaking@gmail.com. For more topics and detailed talk descriptions, check here.

Klaus Schmeh has given hundreds of presentations at conferences in Europe and the USA, including the RSA Conference, the NSA Symposium on Cryptologic History, Novell Brainshare, the Charlotte Crypto Symposium, HistoCrypt, and 44CON. Check here for a list of Klaus’s past and upcoming talks.

He can be reached at klaus.codebreaking@gmail.com

Possible Talks

Famous and Not-so-Famous Unsolved Codes

There are many famous codes and ciphers still waiting to be solved, such as the encrypted Voynich manuscript and the cryptic messages from the infamous Zodiac Killer. All hold a special fascination. In this talk, prepare to be entertained and informed by Elonka Dunin and Klaus Schmeh (who also have a new book out, “Codebreaking: A Practical Guide”), as we briefly discuss things such as the encryption on Kryptos, the mysterious sculpture at the center of CIA Headquarters; plus an encrypted engraving on an early 20th century silver cigarette case; the mysterious art in London’s Cylob booklet; details about the message attached to the skeleton of a WWII carrier pigeon that was found in an English chimney; messages showing up in bottles in the waterways of Hamburg, Germany; and the intriguing encrypted messages created by the mysterious Henry Debosnys while awaiting his murder trial in New York in the late 1800s.

More Famous and Not-so-Famous Unsolved Codes

There are many other noteworthy unsolved ciphertexts than can be covered in a 45-minute talk, so in this next presentation, the two will introduce many more spectacular unsolved codes. The stories they tell include a mysterious 1953 murder case; a 32-page cryptogram from WW2; a series of encrypted inscriptions in Australia; a hidden treasure; and a telegram found in a secret pocket of a century-old dress. While some of these stories are well-known, others have little coverage in any academic literature or presentations. However, all of these stories have one thing in common: they include an encrypted message that has never been deciphered.

Encrypted Life-after-Death Experiments of Robert Thouless

Dr. Robert Thouless (1894-1984) was a psychologist with an interest in parapsychology. He wrote multiple books and coined the term “psi” (and as a note, his son, Dr. David Thouless, was a Nobel prize-winning physicist). In 1948, Robert Thouless started an interesting experiment: He published an encrypted text, while keeping the key (i.e., a password) secret. His plan was to channel the key from the beyond after his death, with the hope that if somebody in the earthly existence received this information and was able to decrypt the message with it, that this would be strong evidence that there is life after death and that the dead can communicate with the living. For redundancy, Thouless even created two different messages for the test. One was broken immediately (through non-paranormal means), so he created a third one as well. The experiment proved unsuccessful, as after Thouless’s death in 1984 nobody received a correct key from the realm of the dead. However, the three messages led to notable research works in the field of codebreaking. In this talk, Klaus and Elonka will go over Thouless’s messages and how they were broken, as well as covering the efforts of some other individuals who were or are trying to create similar experiments.

Solving Historical Ciphers with Modern Means

Many old encryption methods are still hard to break today. For instance, cryptanalyzing a short 19th century Playfair cipher is far from trivial. WW2 Enigma messages, spy ciphers from the Cold War, and manual methods used by criminals such as the Zodiac Killer can also be challenging, especially when the ciphertexts are short. On the other hand, techniques for breaking historical ciphers have recently made considerable progress. Computer-based cryptanalysis methods such as hill climbing and simulated annealing have been successfully applied to break original WWII Enigma messages, as well as one of the world’s most famous unsolved codes, a 1970 ciphertext sent by the Zodiac Killer. The record in solving short Playfair messages has improved: whereas many years ago the shortest Playfair ciphertext that could be cracked required a minimum of 60 letters, now messages as short as 26 letters have been solved. However, many other historical ciphertexts are still unbroken to date. This presentation introduces the most important historical ciphers, and modern techniques to break them – based on the 2020 book “Codebreaking: A Practical Guide” authored by the presenters. Many real-world examples will be provided, with slides that use an entertaining style including Lego brick models, self-drawn cartoons, and animations.

(a version of this talk was given at DEF CON in August 2021.)

How to Investigate a Murder Case from Your Sofa: Unsolved Cryptograms from Criminals and Crime Victims

Unsolved cryptograms that might help to solve an unsolved crime are among the most popular topics in crypto history. Stories such as the Zodiac Killer letters, the McCormick notes, or the Taman Shud cryptogram have received wide media attention. However, there is more. Victims of unsolved murders in Germany and the USA have left behind cryptograms that are yet to be broken. A ticket counter robber in Ohio wrote an encrypted message (a telegram?) that has never been broken. In addition, there are numerous unsolved cryptograms that might provide additional evidence in solved crimes – for instance in the Debosnys murder case from New York in the late 1800s, or the 2004 Rayburn murder case in Massachusetts. Other cryptograms created by criminals have been solved by the police but the solution has never been published. In this presentation we introduce a collection of unsolved cryptograms that have played a role in criminal cases.

Crime-related Codes and Ciphers

As true-crime books and TV shows are booming, there is also a growing interest in ciphers that have played a role in crimes. For instance, the Zodiac Killer, who sent four encrypted messages to newspapers in the late 1960s , once again hit the news recently when his second ciphertext was broken in late 2020. There are many other stories of this kind, involving solved and unsolved crimes as well as solved and unsolved codes. This presentation covers some of the most interesting ones. It will introduce, among others, the messages created by the convicted wife murderer Henry Debosnys in the late 1800s, the cryptic note left behind by the mysterious Somerton Man in Australia in 1948, and the encryption systems used by the German terrorist group RAF in the 1970s. Finally, the use of computer-based encryption by criminals will be addressed, along with some discussion about crypto backdoors for law enforcement agencies.

A few other possible topics

  • Famous Unsolved Codes: A focus on Kryptos, the encrypted sculpture at the CIA
  • The encrypted Friedman Tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery
  • The encrypted Art of Jim Sanborn
  • Geocaching: The worldwide crowd-sourced game
  • Codebreaking that changed the course of history
  • Codebreaking and espionage
  • The Voynich Manuscript, the world’s most mysterious book
  • The Enigma and other cipher machines
  • Cold War cryptography
  • Explaining Post-Quantum Crypto with Cartoons