Pentagon offers $50K to reconstruct shredded documents

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is offering a $50,000 prize to anyone who can piece together a series of shredded documents.

According to DARPA exec Dan Kaufman, the goal of the initiative is to identify and assess potential capabilities that could be used by US troops who discover the remnants of destroyed documents in overseas war zones.

In addition, the methodology – if successful – could also help the Pentagon identify vulnerabilities in current shredding practices throughout the US national security community.

Currently, a variety of techniques exist for reconstructing shredded documents including manual assembly, fully automated (computerized) algorithms and hybrid operator-assisted approaches. 

But DARPA hopes to gain new insight into which of these or other innovative techniques are quicker and more efficient, and, whether the wide availability of high resolution photography, communication and crowd-sourcing strategies offer unexpected advances.

“The ability to reconstruct shredded documents will potentially yield information that may save lives or offer critical information about an adversary’s plans,” explained Kaufman. 

“Currently, this process is much too slow and too labor-intensive, particularly if the documents are handwritten. We are looking to the Shredder Challenge to generate some leap-ahead thinking in this area.”

The Shredder Challenge is composed of five separate problems in which the number of documents, subject matter and the method of shredding is varied to present challenges of increasing difficulty. 

To complete each problem, participants are asked to provide answers to puzzles embedded in the content of reconstructed documents. The overall prize awarded depends on the number and difficulty of problems solved.


You can register here and view a complete list of rules, along with images of the shredded documents for the five problems.

The twitter hashtag for the contest is #shredderchallenge.