Digital Scavenger Hunt

Abstraction in Action

Bits are everywhere, and they can represent virtually anything. In fact, at the binary level, the previous sentence looks like this:

01000010 01101001 01110100 01110011 00100000 01100001 
01110010 01100101 00100000 01100101 01110110 01100101
01110010 01111001 01110111 01101000 01100101 01110010
01100101 00101100 00100000 01100001 01101110 01100100
00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 01111001 00100000
01100011 01100001 01101110 00100000 01110010 01100101
01110000 01110010 01100101 01110011 01100101 01101110
01110100 00100000 01110110 01101001 01110010 01110100
01110101 01100001 01101100 01101100 01111001 00100000
01100001 01101110 01111001 01110100 01101000 01101001
01101110 01100111 00101110

The bits themselves do not mean anything without a rule that tells us how to interpret them. This is the beauty of abstraction and a big part of the illusion that makes computers work the way they do.

Consider the following string of bits:

01000100 01110101 01100100 01100101 00101100 00100000 
01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01101001
01110011 00100000 01101111 01100010 01110110 01101001
01101111 01110101 01110011 01101100 01111001 00100000
01110100 01100101 01111000 01110100 00101110

The task of figuring out what these bits mean is impossible without establishing a method for decoding them. They may be a message encoded in ASCII, a save file for Peerless Fabio Twins, or part of an image. They could be any of these and more. Assuming that they are ASCII, mapping each set of eight is trivial; just map them from one encoding to another.

Use the XLATE tool to read the message encoded in ASCII in the previous bitstring. Simply copy and paste the binary into the “binary” pane and press the button. XLATE will present different encodings of the same bits. It should be fairly obvious which is the intended encoding.

Your Task: A Digital Scavenger Hunt

Your task is to find and submit a secret message buried in binary. This task stresses that binary can encode different types of data depending on the rules for abstraction used to interpret it.

  1. Load secret.txt in a web browser to obtain some bits. Before continuing, look at the bits. What do you think is encoded? How different are the bits in different areas of the bitstring?
  2. Paste these bits (ALL OF THEM) into the binary pane in XLATE and click the DECODE button. Nothing obvious will be apparent, but remember how differently the bits were distributed in binary. Scroll around the panes and look for something interesting. You will find further instructions there.

Submit the Following:

  • The secret message.

  • A brief outline of the process you used to find the message. Include dead ends!

  • Answer the following short questions:

    1. What type of file do you open at the end?
    2. Why is the sequence 11111111 repeated often in secret.txt? What does it represent? Hint: Consider the type of file that is encoded and what occurs most often within it.
    3. Type a message (like “sir i soon saw bob was no osiris") into the text field in XLATE. Which of the encodings (binary, ASCII decimal, hexadecimal or BASE64) is the most compact? Why?