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Beam Search for Solving Substitution Ciphers

Malte Nuhn, Julian Schamper and Hermann Ney

The 51st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL 2013)
Sofia, Bulgaria, August 4-9, 2013


In this paper we address the problem of solving substitution ciphers using a beam search approach. We present a conceptually consistent and easy to implement method that improves the current state of the art for decipherment of substitution ciphers and is able to use high order n-gram language models. We show experiments with 1:1 substitution ciphers in which the guaranteed optimal solution for 3-gram language models has 38.6% decipherment error, while our approach achieves 4.13% decipherment error in a fraction of time by using a 6-gram language model. We also apply our approach to the famous Zodiac-408 cipher and obtain slightly better (and near to optimal) results than previously published. Unlike the previous state-of-the-art approach that uses additional word lists to evaluate possible decipherments, our approach only uses a letter-based 6-gram language model. Furthermore we use our algorithm to solve large vocabulary substitution ciphers and improve the best published decipherment error rate based on the Gigaword corpus of 7.8% to 6.0% error rate.

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