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Team claims $50,000 for decoding shredded messages

The $50,000 DARPA Shredder Challenge called on participants to reconstruct handwritten messages that have been shredded beyond recognition, including this one.
The $50,000 DARPA Shredder Challenge called on participants to reconstruct handwritten messages that have been shredded beyond recognition, including this one.DARPA

A team of San Francisco-based sleuths claimed a $50,000 prize from the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency today for correctly reconstructing a series of five shredded documents.

The accomplishment comes just 33 days after the DARPA Shredder Challenge was announced in a bid to improve the ability of warfighters to glean information quickly from confiscated, shredded documents.

The challenge also provides insight to the potential vulnerabilities in the current practice of shredding sensitive national security documents, not to mention your own financial statements and personal notes.

The winning team, All Your Shreds Are Belong to U.S., used custom-coded, computer vision algorithms to come up with suggested fragment pairings, which were then sent along to human assemblers for verification, the DARPA announcement explains.

They spent a total of 600 worker-hours developing algorithms and piecing together the documents, which were shredded into more than 10,000 pieces.

"Lots of experts were skeptical that a solution could be produced at all, let alone within the short time frame," Dan Kaufman, director of DARPA's Information Innovation Office, said in the statement

In all, nearly 9,000 teams registered to participate in the challenge. The most effective approaches used a blend of computational and old-fashioned detective work, the agency said.

The fact that the challenge has been completed should come as good news to soldiers attempting to read shredded documents — like the papers found, for example, in a Bin Laden hideout.

However, it also might make you pause next time you shred your latest bank statement. The practice may no longer be enough to keep your secrets safe. 

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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.