This is a version of a question I asked on Security.SE, this time with a focus on the TV side of it.

In S01E05 of The Wire, at around the 45:00 mark, it's revealed that:

Avon Barksdale's crew encrypt their phone numbers by using a substitution cipher based on the layout of a T9 mobile phone keypad.

In more detail:

Each digit of the number, with the exception of 5 and 0, is replaced with the corresponding digit on the other side of the 5 key ("jump the five''); 5 and 0 are exchanged. Thus, 555-867-5309 becomes 000-243-0751. Devise a one-line statement to encrypt and decrypt numbers encoded in this way.

The in-universe reason for the cipher was that it had to be both secure but simple enough for low-level dealers to understand, but I've been able to find basically nothing for an out-of-universe reason.

Is there any extra material that details how the idea was devised or what the inspiration was?

  • Please don't cross post the same question on multiple sites. Pick one. - security.stackexchange.com/questions/243250/…
    – Paulie_D
    Jan 14 at 9:24
  • Seeing As I was using this type of cypher in highs school in 2000 I doubt it's invention of the writers. Jan 14 at 9:25
  • An answer to this question must inherently be built on the presumption of having access to every cypher everyone has ever used. Quite obviously, people tend to not reveal their encryption cyphers or add them to a public registry. So your guess is as good as anyone's.
    – Flater
    Jan 14 at 18:03
  • As David Simon, the writer of The Wire, was a journalist who covered drug and gang activity in Baltimore before becoming a TV writer, it's quite likely that he learned of the jump 5 cipher from actual Baltimore drug dealers. That leaves open the question of where did the drug dealers get it from. We could easily speculate that it only takes one clever person to look at a phone and devise an easy way to substitute characters using the keypad, and then that person spreads the idea around. Jan 16 at 5:48

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