So the time has come around again where the Internet has reminded me of the Key Lime Pie Internet Mystery. You’ve likely found it on Reddit.
It relates to a phenomena of SPAM comments on the Internet, on random websites, seemingly about key lime pie (pictured), sentences eventually devolving into pornographic proportions of nonsense. The thing is, that while a spambot may be to blame, it’s difficult to explain why they would be advertising pie of all things, and why they would keep this up for over a decade.
I’ve investigated this some time ago and found it to be an encryption scheme, probably used for some deep web style illegal internet based exchange of messages. I believe a Stargate episode long ago implied that the CIA uses this sort of thing as well on occasion. Who knows what the reality is, but it’s true that things are often best hidden in plain sight, as demonstrated by the number of people and amount of time wasted on this mystery, yielding little or nothing public.
What frustrates me is that despite some people knowing the nature of this stuff, it keeps being perpetuated as a “mystery” — because of course something instantly ceases to be interesting as soon as you have explained it. So people just don’t get to know the truth. I think even my reply to the Reddit got taken down. Well, I can try and fix it again on here and hopefully someone finds this page in their research.
So, what is the key to understanding the nonsensical messages regarding key lime pie? It is an encryption technique called steganography.
You may have noticed that the comments regarding key lime pie do not look like code. They look like at least semi-sensible sentences. This is the key component of steganography, like the wiki says: “Steganography is the practice of concealing a file, message, image, or video within another file, message, image, or video”. In other words, the hidden messages are hidden within these sentences. They are encoded by the means of… the order of words, the length of particular words, the punctuation and similar. Things that a human reader might easily glance over while reading a message.
After all, we all know what SPAM looks like. We know bots tend to include semi-sensible text into their messages to defeat automated anti-SPAM protection. These types of messages are normal… right? Nobody would suspect them to hold meaning. As said however, the meaning is not in the text itself, it’s in the things we assume are random.
One of the downsides of steganography, like every other form of encryption, is that besides the message itself, it also requires an encryption key of some kind. Let’s take an easier example, an ancient roman syctale:
The use of the encryption device isn’t difficult to figure out form just looking at it. You take a stick, wrap a strap of paper on it and then write your message horizontally across the strip. When you unwrap your paper strap, the letters will appear to be giberish until you wrap them around the same kind of stick again. In this case, the strap of paper is the encrypted message and the width of the stick is the key. Without a stick of the same width, the message does not come together again.
Giving every commander the same kind of wooden stick might have worked well in ancient times, before the invention of the ruler and standardized measuring units. But these days, it would take very little time to figure out and decode. So modern encryption schemes use a key that keeps changing.
Back to the key lime pie example, the SPAM comments posted in various internet sites are clearly the encrypted messages, but what is the key? Where would a group of people want to post a key that keeps changing over time, that would be anonymously accessible to everyone, but arouse no suspicion? The answer is Facebook.
Of course, because in this case the encryption scheme is steganography, the key is the original text which is modulated to generate the encrypted messages. In layman’s terms, to encrypt a message, you could take an original message which is used as a key, split it down to segments of different length, then make each segment represent a letter of your message. Put the gibberish back together in the order of your characters in your message and you’ve successfully encrypted your hidden message.
Let’s try doing that together. Let’s take the latest Facebook post by our friend Jake Carson, and paste it into a spreadsheet. Then, let’s take each line and assign a character to it. I’m going with the english alphabet, plus a space and I’ve skipped the lines that are only dots. I’ve trimmed off the remaining messages. We end up with a key table like this.
Now let’s encode our message with it. I’m going with “hello world”:
..And We Hate To Sound Like A Broken Record But Here Is A Key Lime Pie For Our Buddy “Maurice White”, Founder Of The Great Group “Earth, Wind and Fire”!..Rest In Peace Dude.…Can’t Get Enough Of That Key Lime Pie, Key Lime Pie, Key Lime Pie. Can’t Get Enough Of That Key Lime Pie Or I’ll Just Cry Until I Die, I Don’t Know Why I Just Love My Key Lime Pies!….are so wild about him and his Famous Cheese Burgers and Key Lime Pies, are so wild about him and his Famous Cheese Burgers and Key Lime Pies,His Drop Dead Gorgeous Wife “Miss Anita” together in they’re Historic Key..Miss Anita And ’Chef ‘Captain Kutchie Pelaez’s Key West-Kutcharitaville Key Lime Pie Factory And Cafe’, “Where Eating Is A Pleasure And Cooking Is An Art”….. Hell, “Chef Kutchie Pelaez” Has More Talent In His Toe-Nail Clippings Than All The Others Have In Their Entire Bodies!..Figure!!!!!!!….His Drop Dead Gorgeous Wife “Miss Anita” together in they’re Historic Key Your Time in They’re Little “Key West Island” near the Biltmore Estate are so wild about him and his Famous Cheese Burgers and Key Lime Pies, …Kobe Bryant May Be Retiring From Basket Ball But Captain Kutchie’s Is Still His Pie Of Choice!…
Does this read as something familiar? The reason why some of these texts are all capitals whereas some of them aren’t is mainly because if you check the Facebook post, the segments added in the later posts do not have all capital letters.
But now that you have the encrypted message, if you go back to the key table and find the individual segments, you can reconstruct the original message “hello world”.
But this is just an example, the actual encryption scheme probably doesn’t use the alphabet, they probably encrypt their messages with something else and then use that, to determine which segments to use in the text. The original text is more than 200 individual lines and likely the lines with just the dots mean something too. But for me at this point the mystery is solved. If you really want to know what the messages say, you’re going to have to fiddle with it some more after this point. Just remember to use the latest key posted on Facebook at the same time as the message you are decrypting. 🙂
As for why the text is about key lime pies in particular? Well, it needed to be something mundane that would not arouse suspicion or identify the author, likely the programmer of the encryption tool just googled “key” and eventually arrived at an ad for key lime pie, which they copied. When they realized over time that they need more lines for a more complex key, they just padded it with nonsense from a porn site, about a woman named the same way as Captain Kutchie’s wife, for the lulz. Likely authored lines of nonsense to help combine these two himself.
By the way, would be glad to answer any questions you might have, just post them in the comments.
Also, enjoy your pie. 🙂