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I recently voted to close this question for which the close reason is spot-on. The OP mentions that he's stuck so one can hope he's already tried something, but until he edits the question it'll be off-topic. If he edits it it'll (hopefully) look like the one below:

Hello I've got this piece of data [insert ciphertext here] which I {think/know} has been encrypted with [cipher]. I've read [link] and tried [technique] but I'm stuck at [this]. Please help.

That can be answered or flagged as duplicate as appropriate. It can be answered if [technique] is not covered elsewhere on the site, and flagged as dup otherwise.

I've noticed that in these types of questions some of our peers rush to close as a decryption request. To make matters worse, questions that merely contain a block of data such as this are often flagged likewise. I can't help but feel we are being a bit trigger-happy when it comes to perceived de-reqs so please allow me to give what I believe are valid solutions to this problem.

  • Really read the question: My eye caught a block of gibberish so it's a de-req is not proper site maintenance. The mere existence of a datadump does not merit a close vote.
  • Flag them as duplicates

Many of these questions can be flagged duplicate, or at least have the OP pointed to this or this where the OP is at least given something that resembles a proper answer.

To conclude, please stop abusing de-req when closing.

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First up: I’m not sure if this is an acceptable answer, as this is actually a comment-that-ran-out-of-space, but I’ll start dropping my humble 2 cents nevertheless just to see how much my comment grows…

If he edits it…

To my surprise, OP chose to delete the question.

That can be answered or flagged as duplicate as appropriate. It can be answered if [technique] is not covered elsewhere on the site, and flagged as dup otherwise.

I completely agree.

That was the reason why I chose not to vote on that one, as I hoped your encouraging comment to edit the question would motivate OP to do so. As said: to my surprise, OP chose to delete the question.

To make matters worse, questions that merely contain a block of data such as this are often flagged likewise.

You are absolutely correct. Flagging that as a “decryption request” makes no sense at all.

In fact, I remember that one as I personally flagged it for mod-attention with a migration request because (like you already had noticed) the question was about “TLS” and “packet analysis”, not cryptography. While I am writing this, the question has been successfully migrated to Security.SE.

Anyway, let’s dive to the core of your “question”…

Are we being too harsh with analyze - decrypt a block of data?

Sadly enough, most questions containing ciphertext boil down to Decode this for me: "rT%7Z(". and that makes it pretty hard to find reasons not to flag it as a decryption request.

In such cases, most of us (not all) tend to follow a common lead of asking the OP what he/she has tried, if there were any results, problems, or anything else that might be useful to know to be able to write up a usable answer, or to enhance the question… after all, we’re here to help. But we can only do that if we know what OP understands and what OP might be missing. Fact is, it doesn’t make sense explaining crypto from A to Z just because OP might have been too lazy to write up a decent question.

Let’s take a look at the most recent example on my activity timeline:

knapsack Calculate the initial superincreasing sequence

Consider the hard knapsack (7, 14, 49, 82, 88, 98) which was created with the key 7 mod 101. Calculate the initial superincreasing sequence.

please help guys!!


I’m sorry to say so, but I doubt anyone will step forward and simply solve your tasks for you. What research have you done? What have you tried? What exactly are you having a problem with? – e-sushi May 12 at 0:21

In fact, I think this is rather nice example because it’s a readable “please decode” question missing the usual block of scrambled unicode characters. Nevertheless, it has some problems and is actually nothing else than a decoding request, which may or may not be asking for some background theory.

Now, I left the comment and a few hours later I revisited it, saw no changes and then decided to flag it. Others did the same. Was that wrong? Did “we rush all for the flag”? At first, you might tend to say “yes” because I could have waited a few days instead of a few hours. But the reason I think flagging wasn’t wrong is that a question that gets put on hold (1) got flagged for a reason, and (2) can be edited as well as re-opened.

Which brings us to something which might not be completely understood by new users:

Questions that have been put on hold have some kind of problem and should be edited by OP to enhance them, to make them clearer, or to fix whatever issue the question has. From my own experience at other SE sites, closed questions can be reopened after an edit and even become somewhat successful for a question that initially got closed.

Besides taking care how and what we flag, we need to communicate that to users with comments.

Which finally brings us to what you are pointing to…

You are correct.

To enable OPs to fix problems, OPs need people to flag correctly and – even more important – leave a constructive comment to help OP enhance the question.

Therefore, I absolutely agree with your reminders:

  • Really read the question: My eye caught a block of gibberish so it's a de-req is not proper site maintenance. The mere existence of a datadump does not merit a close vote.
  • Flag them as duplicates

Yet, I would add “if possible“ to the later point because (looking at that example question I qouted) some questions just don’t offer the option to mark it as a dupe of something because there is nothing alike.

Hmmm, I guess that somewhat wraps up this comment-that-became-an-answer.

On a side-note: I sure hope some of our peers doesn’t include me. I always leave comments when flagging so that if people disagree with me, they can point me to it. I’m known to correct my mistakes. ;)

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    $\begingroup$ Well this is a rather extended +1 to my mini-rant. One point though, I don't mind the speed the vote is cast, if it should be placed on hold might as well do it promptly, I only care about the accuracy of the on-hold reason. Mis-closed Qs are confusing to regular members and, most importantly, the OP. (I also can't see who votes before a Q is closed so I'll have to take your word for the last bit ;) ) $\endgroup$ – rath May 16 '14 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, people should flag correctly and leave a constructive comment to help OPs enhance their questions. There’s no doubt your mini-rant might has its place. Even if everyone would flag and comment perfectly, a reminder like yours never hurts. (LOL – “mini-rant” sounds so cute…) $\endgroup$ – e-sushi May 16 '14 at 13:39
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I'm not sure I'm seeing evidence of abuse. I'd want to see data before changing our policy.

You only cite one example of a question, and that question wasn't closed with the "analyze/decrypt data" reason; it was closed as off-topic for this site. So I haven't seen evidence that this is being abused or over-used.

A reminder of the purpose of this close question doesn't hurt, of course.


It's also worth remembering that there's nothing wrong with putting a question "on hold" if the question does ask for us to analyze/decrypt a block of data.

When we put a question on hold, there are two ways things can play out from there. If the original author does come back and edit the question into something suitable (perhaps along the lines you mention), then it can be re-opened. If the original author doesn't come back and edit the question, then the question will eventually be closed. Both outcomes seem fine.

The purpose of putting a question "on hold" is to enforce a pause until the question is edited to become suitable. "On hold" is intended to be temporary until the author edits the question appropriately. The fact that the original author might be able to edit it into something suitable is not a good reason to avoid putting a question "on hold".

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    $\begingroup$ I agree. You don't see any data because I'm not asking for a change in policy, just a reminder of the purpose, as you say. When I visited that Q during review someone had flagged it as a de-req, although ultimately correct action was taken. If memory serves that was the case for both examples. As I say in my comment to e-sushi's answer, this is more of a mini-rant on proper use of flagging (especially de-reqs!) than anything else. $\endgroup$ – rath May 25 '14 at 15:18

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