I occasionally enjoy spending my weekend participating in a computer security competition, better known as a Capture The Flag (CTF) competition. In these competitions, various kinds of challenges must be solved to retrieve flags, and the team with the highest number of flags at the end of the weekend wins. My favorite challenges have always been the crypto ones.

Outside of security competitions, cryptography shows up everywhere. It's used to secure bank transactions, keep computer passwords safe, and digitally sign documents. We even see hidden messages show up in TV shows and movies. Sometimes, breaking the code is central to the movie, as in Interstellar:

But other times, the messages are easter eggs left for avid fans to find. And these hidden messages are my favorite! Below, I've shared a few examples of messages that were hidden in popular media.

Silicon Valley

In the Season 5 trailer for Silicon Valley, there is a quick scene of Gavin Belson giving a speech in front of a wall of 0s and 1s.

Gavin Belson gives a speech in front of a string of 0s and 1s.

To the unsuspecting eye, this is gibberish. To a programmer, this ASCII translates to "find a hobby for god's sake." Don't believe me? Translate it yourself:

01100110 01101001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01100001 00100000 
01101000 01101111 01100010 01100010 01111001 00100000 01100110 
01101111 01110010 00100000 01100111 01101111 01100100 00100111 
01110011 00100000 01110011 01100001 01101011 01100101

The Office

In "Launch Party" (Season 4, Episode 5) of The Office, Dwight competes against a computer to see who can sell the most reams of paper. Eventually, Dwights says to it, "why don't you 011 1111 011 011?"

To be valid ASCII, Dwight's code needs to have a length that's a multiple of 8, and this can be achieved by left-padding each of his binary "words" with 0s until each word is 4 digits long. Then, the code becomes 00111111 00110011, which translates to the characters ? and ESC. Maybe Dwight is teasing the computer that it can't escape from the AI world that it's trapped in? It gives me some The Matrix vibes.

Separately, the same episode also shows Jim and Pam using Morse code to communicate with each other in front of Dwight as part of a prank, but unfortunately, their keyboard taps and pen clicks don't actually translate to real words. Here's the video if you'd like to attempt translating it yourself:

The Matrix

The opening sequence of The Matrix is filled with digital rain, i.e. random strings of code that fall along the screen from top to bottom. Apparently, this katakana text is actually just a bunch of sushi recipes that are normally written in hiragana or kanji!

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/the-matrix-code-sushi-recipe/

Finding other easter eggs

I know Futurama has tons of hidden messages for its fans, and I'm sure there are plenty of others that I have no idea about. What I also hadn't realized is that there's an entire Reddit community dedicated to cracking the code for these kinds of hidden messages! Check it out: https://old.reddit.com/r/codes/

And you? Where have you found hidden messages?