What is the best way to "encrypt" my diary?
January 9, 2010 7:27 AM   Subscribe

What is a simple pen-and-paper method of keeping things I am writing in a journal unknown to prying eyes?

I'm interested in keeping a detailed diary of my daily activities for personal use, however I'm not sure I'm comfortable having such a detailed record of my life available for perusal by the curious.

I am trying to protect myself from the average joe snoop, I don't need a method that would be uncrackable by the police or anything.

There are a couple of solutions to this that I have thought of (and I'd gladly accept others!)

1) I could write my journal in shorthand, I was specifically interested in Gregg Shorthand. Though, it seems like it would be a serious investment in time to learn it (and I wanna write down what I did yesterday already!) Which lead me to think that there are probably simpler encryption methods with minimal learning.

2) I can't specifically recall the names of any of the methods, but I am certain I have read about relatively simple & ingenius methods for encrypting handwritten text.

3) I could always find a secure safe to hold the journal, though I don't really have the money for this. If you know of an extremely cheap product that would meet my needs, I'd appreciate suggestions.

Thank you very much for your help!
posted by ejfox to Writing & Language (36 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You could write everything in plaintext, and when you get to sensitive names/places/words that you'd like to encrypt, ROT13 is a simple solution.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:32 AM on January 9, 2010

Response by poster: That's an excellent solution- but I'm going to need to encrypt whole stories & paragraphs.
posted by ejfox at 7:39 AM on January 9, 2010

How cheap is cheap? Here is a small safe for $35.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 7:44 AM on January 9, 2010

Best answer: Do what I do: come up with a cipher of some kind and get comfortable with it. Not only will it keep you safe, it will get you way more respect for your intelligence than you deserve. Not that-- well, you know what I mean. That's what happens with me, is all.
posted by jinjo at 7:52 AM on January 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

Mirror writing, maybe? Most of the pen-and-paper ciphers are probably going to slow you down a bit. Do you by chance know another language, or enough of one to use a pidgin-form for your diary?
posted by jquinby at 7:57 AM on January 9, 2010

Yeah, memorize a simple substitution cipher. Practice a bit and you can get to where you'll be able to easily write the substituted letters when needed at a fairly reasonable pace.
posted by limeonaire at 7:58 AM on January 9, 2010

And for double protection vs. the layman, memorize a substitution cipher, then, per jquinby, use it to encrypt foreign translations of the words and phrases in question.
posted by limeonaire at 8:02 AM on January 9, 2010

Make or find a small and wide leather belt and grommet some holes to fit a luggage lock. If you are creative with sewing it shouldn't be too hard to make one with nylon webbing. The one I envision is a cross strap that locks together and cannot be slid off. Something like that probably doesn't exist but would be a cinch to make. Something like this sketch.
posted by JJ86 at 8:19 AM on January 9, 2010

In high school my friends and I memorized a runic alphabet and used that for passing notes. Even if they were intercepted no one could read them and with personal symbols instead of names people didn't even know who they were from. It takes relatively little time to get comfortable with substituting symbols for letters you already know. You would be surprised how quickly you can get comfortable with a new alphabet if you try. Writing in it every day would be the quickest way to perfect your 'fluency' anyway. But I like the idea of shorthand too because you can never write as fast as you want to. Maybe you can just combine the two ideas. Good luck!
posted by stubborn at 8:25 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

can you just get a fireproof box? I think you can get them for $30 at Target or Staples. Not super strong or anything, but would deter someone from just casually picking up your diary. Or are you carrying this diary around with you? When I was in school, my friend and I had a substitution code we used to write notes. I don't think it took long for us to learn it -- just a few days of writing in it. (but don't lose the code, or years later, you might not remember it!)

On preview: what everyone else said.
posted by bluefly at 8:37 AM on January 9, 2010

I used to do this using phonetics (a sort of simplified/bastardised form that I learned in high school theater). Here's the wikipedia entry on the International Phonetic Alphabet - it looks a bit confusing at first glance, but it was very quick to learn and really confusing looking and unintelligible to a casual onlooker (but be warned that someone very determined could probably figure it out and read it given enough time and determination).
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 8:38 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

oh and also - the idea of the safe/fireproof box is good for storage, but I personally always wanted to be able to write in places where other people might also be (cafes, libraries, lectures), and still feel that someone wouldn't be able to see/understand what I was writing. Not like people would stand and read over my shoulder, but not be able to sort of accidentally catch anything if they glanced in the direction of the journal.

not paranoid, honest, just somewhat private, and this was a long time ago and and...
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 8:41 AM on January 9, 2010

Leaving out most vowels is an easy shorthand, and while it can be read pretty easily, it might throw off a casual glancer.

(Lvng ot mst vwls s n esy shrthnd, nd whl t cn b rd prtty esly, t mght thrw ff a csl glncr.)
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:15 AM on January 9, 2010

If this was a computer, I'd say look into the privacy films that 3M and others sell. They limit the angle of view to one of several reduced ranges.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:17 AM on January 9, 2010

magdalenstreetladies, using IPA for security is really not a good idea. IPA is, after all, an international standard designed to facilitate the communication of phonetic information.

Rather than trying to use historical ciphers by hand, you could just type the diary on your computer, producing a searchable text files, and encypt that (eg. with truecypt). Or write pages, scan them, save them onto a encypted volume on your computer, and destroy the paper original.

Alternatively, just lock up/hide the diary.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 9:27 AM on January 9, 2010

*a searchable text file
posted by James Scott-Brown at 9:28 AM on January 9, 2010

Learning Gregg (or any other type) shorthand is similar to learning a foreign language and takes lots of practice. (I am very glad I learned it in high school, because over the years it has protected my notes from many prying eyes.) Any type of "code" will be tricky to master and then there's the problem of possibly forgetting it; suppose you stop writing in a few years and then 20 years later decide to re-read your journals and you can't remember your code? I think a secure hiding place is your best bet, or else keep two journals - one with innocuous observations in a drawer or someplace that might be stumbled upon and your "real" journal in a more secure place. That way if someone finds the fake one, they'll think they've found your inner-most thoughts and won't search any further.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:45 AM on January 9, 2010

You can use a deck of cards to run Schneier's Solitaire encryption algorithm. But I suspect it's not practical for writing of any length.

If you just want to protect from prying eyes (but not cryptanalysis), inventing your own phonetic alphabet and using code words for sensitive terms is probably the easiest and quickest.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:56 AM on January 9, 2010

Best answer: Whatever you do, don't forget whatever method you choose (I've attempted many times to decipher things I wrote years ago in a code I can no longer crack!)
posted by marimeko at 10:49 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of diaries/journals have locks. Any reason that won't do? I had a notebook that held legal pads with a lock in high school. I never bothered with the lock, but even the little push-button latch foiled at least one person. I know a lot look very little-girly but some of these are nice.

Or you could take a small notebook...I think something like a moleskin would be best. And then just drill a hole on the opening side, and put a lock through it.
posted by Caravantea at 11:40 AM on January 9, 2010

jinjo, that's amazing. This is why metafilter is great. I had no idea I needed my own personal runic alphabet. I do.
posted by mearls at 11:45 AM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Use lined paper. Write one line, skip to line 3 or 4, then skip another line or two. Keep doing this. Fill in the blank lines with sentences from any book. This worked in the 6th grade.
posted by Pennyblack at 12:13 PM on January 9, 2010

I was looking at shorthand tutorials last night and it is nice in that you can start using a few strokes at first to substitute common words and gradually incorporate more words as you get more familiar with it. Plus is's a skill that might come in handy later.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:53 PM on January 9, 2010

Invisible (except to uv/blacklight) ink pen? If you don't press extremely hard while writing, it'll look like a blank notebook.
posted by sentient at 12:57 PM on January 9, 2010

Best answer: Fold the page over and staple it shut.
posted by idiotfactory at 12:58 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a friend who wrote his journals in Esperanto. This probably is not an easy solution, however.

I once read a website that developed a really nice alphabet from a diagrammatic cipher. Tragically I have no idea how to find it again. It is very hard to find things on the internet you remember mostly by the pictures.
posted by that girl at 5:16 PM on January 9, 2010

Best answer: I found it after much circuitous searching: Elian Script
posted by that girl at 5:26 PM on January 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

James Scott-Brown - I figured if she was happy with the level of security of shorthand she'd be happy with the level of security of a simplified/personal version of IPA. And unless the person or people s/he's seeking privacy from are linguists or speech therapists or similar, it might be safe enough. Depends on the OP's needs/prefs. Just an option. (Plus, given some people's difficulties breaking codes they'd made up years previously, the fact that it's look-up-able might be a feature...)
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 5:28 PM on January 9, 2010

that girl - that is gorgeous! I have to learn that, that is really beautiful. Glad you remembered.
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 5:30 PM on January 9, 2010

oops. were successful at searching diligently.
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 5:31 PM on January 9, 2010

Rather than learning a completely novel cipher, it may be dually-beneficial for you to learn arabic script and write your journal phonetically. Then, not only do you have a relatively-opaque cipher (at least to non-arabic speakers), but you also have the nifty ability to read Arabic. You could do the same with any other non-roman script-- cyrillic, greek, &c.
posted by The White Hat at 10:25 PM on January 9, 2010

When I was a kid I learned the Ancient Greek alphabet from an illustration in my history textbook, and kept my diary in that. It's similar enough to english that it was easy to learn (I was bastardising it and just doing letter-by-letter transcription), but just different enough that other people can't read it off.
posted by jacalata at 10:37 PM on January 9, 2010

oh, like White Hat suggested.
posted by jacalata at 10:37 PM on January 9, 2010

I found it after much circuitous searching: Elian Script

Nice! You could combine that with telephone numbers to ease memorization.
posted by MesoFilter at 8:51 AM on January 10, 2010

3) I could always find a secure safe to hold the journal

If you can afford it, do that. You don't want to waste your time with codes. Write it in plain English and keep it in a metal box with a lock. If anyone asks, it's just where you keep your important papers.

For example:
First Alert 2017F .19 Cubic Foot Fire and Water Chest -- 50 bucks
First Alert 2037F .62 Cubic Foot Fire and Water File Chest -- 75 bucks
posted by pracowity at 12:14 PM on January 10, 2010

Response by poster: Oh but I DO want to waste my time with codes. Thank you very much for the suggestions everyone! I think I will do a combination of the above!
posted by ejfox at 6:33 PM on January 12, 2010

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