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Enigma 312

Posted by timothy
from the greatest-generation dept.
Peter Wayner writes: "In all of the scary stories Hollywood circulates about copyright piracy, nothing could be scarier that the gang of file swapping, copyright circumventing hackers in the new movie 'Enigma'. They laugh and love a bit, but mainly they spend their time building a big whirring and clicking machine to smash a copyright protection mechanism. When the machine delivers, they put the results into a Gnutella-like file sharing system called Ultra so their friends can track down the original artists and kill them." (Read on for the rest of Peter's review.)

Ooops. Wrong generation and wrong spin. "Enigma" is about good codebreakers -- the mathematicians and clerks of Great Britain's Bletchley Park who helped the Allied cause during World War II by breaking the German coding machine known as "Enigma." It's a wonderful story that's been told as non-fiction several times before by serious historians. This time around, the former newspaper columnist Robert Harris created a thinly fictionalized novel filled with composite characters based on reality. While the result is not factually perfect, it is close enough to capture the dangerous era. Abandoning the literal truth also allowed him to build a richly plotted yarn that evolves cleanly and smoothly.

The film closely follows the novel, although it does eliminate a few of the more subtle complexities. It was wildly popular in Britain when it was released there last year, probably because the story is told with gorgeously detailed sets dressed with nostalgia for a time of British patriotism and success. The film's costumes are lavish, the extras are everywhere, and the look is close enough to reality that the best complaint one ex-translator stationed at Bletchley Park could offer was that the canteen in the film was much nicer. Even Mick Jagger, one of the film's producer, couldn't resist the spirit and gave himself a cameo appearance as an officer relaxing in a club.

This film could represent the cultural high point for codeslinging nerds and other Slashdot types. Jagger produced this film with another cultural icon, Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels. If you secretly spend your days dreaming of strutting around the stage like Mick Jagger, you can now take some pride in the fact that Mick Jagger spent at least a few days dreaming of playing a code geek. And why not? According to one of the characters, the women go weak in the knees when they get to talk to codebreakers like the protagonist, Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott).

This movie is about sex and mathematics and the crucial satisfaction that comes from understanding the depth of their power. The two main threads of the film track Tom Jericho's search for 1) a missing lover (Saffron Burroughs) and 2) a new way to break the Germans' four rotor, Naval Enigma system known as Shark. His lover may have been mixed up in Germany's sudden decision to abandon the old codes and all of this must be untangled or else the war could be lost. Tom Stoppard, the screenwriter also responsible for Shakespeare In Love, weaves these two threads together with car chases, kissing, train whistles, moonlit nights, illicit file swapping and a few other romantic chords.

It seems like a lot of things happen in four days, but we must remember that this plays out in an era when people weren't couch potatoes taught that ignoring advertising is forbidden. The pacing is the biggest problem with the film because there's too much action packed into 117 minutes, leaving some transitions a bit confusing. The jumps are often too quick and in some places it's hard to know when the flashbacks begin and end.

Despite that, there's much for a geek to love in this movie. Both the Enigma machine and the cryptanalytic attack developed by the British are described in fairly good detail. We learn, perhaps too quickly, that much of the game is finding a crib, a term the codebreakers used to refer to a word or phrase that must be somewhere in the scrambled message. A weather broadcast, for instance, would include the word "rainy" on a wet day and the codebreakers would examine the possible combinations that might produce that word. That was one weakness the folks at Bletchley Park were able to exploit before Jericho's girlfriend disappeared.

Some of the other mathematical details are accurate but not explained in enough detail to be easily understood. Once the crib was identified, the codebreakers relied heavily on the fact that the Enigma machine could not encode one letter into itself. This weakness allowed them to eliminate many of the potential cribs quickly. Then they spent their time looking for potential "loops" in the coding. In a simple case, a loop is formed when the letter A is encoded as an R and a few letters later, an R is encoded as an A. Most of the loops are a chain of several letters strung out in an odd combination. This pencil-and-paper work by the codebreaker is turned over to a big machine that uses the loops to eliminate many of the potential positions of the rotors. The rest are tested quickly with plenty of whirring and clicking. On a good day, and there were many of them, the right settings for the rotors popped out and let the Allies read the encrypted traffic.

You get to see all of this in action, although the film does not describe much of it in the hopes of sparing those unanointed with the knee-weakening, code smashing gene. It's not really fair for me to concentrate on the machines and ignore the actors because most of the movie revolves around the emotional battles for the characters and their conflicting desires. These passions are well-constructed and intelligently arranged. Dougray Scott plays the mathematician with enough dash and sophistication while Kate Winslet fills out the role of the mousey clerk and co-conspirator. The real star is Jeremy Northam, who plays a sophisticated Foreign Office spy with the right amount of oily charm. He, like everyone else in this movie, is fighting a private little war which may or may not fit in with the larger battle between the Allied and Axis forces.

Some of these battles are so crucial to the plot that it's impossible to comment on them without spoiling the ending. For this reason, I'm including several links for you to click after seeing the movie ( first, second, and third.) as well as a sentence encrypted with an Enigma simulator:

FBZ DDE NZA DJN PNI POH YBF NJR QFP DDZ TVP IHN YSJ IXX UAH YXF BZT ZXW BXS GES GYD IFO VXQ KHU LMA SYX YEG MGK

Using Enigma as a digital rights management device is not new-- Harris includes an encrypted dedication in the novel-- but it raises an interesting question: Is the movie and its detailed description of breaking the Enigma in violation of the DMCA? Is the extra detail in the movie just a cookbook for those who want to pirate the sentence I encrypted above? If so, should I be able to shut it down? While some reviewers may dream of writing something so powerful that it closes a movie immediately, I would hate to do it to this one. It's a pretty, nostalgic thriller that makes a good date movie--especially if you happen to be a knee-weakening, codebreaking type.


Peter Wayner's latest books are Disappearing Cryptography, an exploration about how to disguise information and Translucent Databases, a practical description of how to use encryption algorithms to protect sensitive information like credit cards and medical records. If they ever get made into a movie, he wants to be played by Keanu Reeves -- the one who played Ted "Theodore" Logan, not the one who played Neo.

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Enigma

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  • by lord_dragonsfyre (89589) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:05PM (#3510753) Homepage
    ... is, of course, Stephenson's much-loved Cryptonomicon.

    I can't help thinking, though, that as much as many of us love to make the comparison, no court in America would accept that cracking enemy cyphers falls under the DMCA.

    Peace,

    James Vogel.
    • by gosand (234100) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:46PM (#3511005)
      Not to mention Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges. I haven't gotten around to reading it yet, but it is sitting on my shelf just begging to be read. I have heard it is good.

      There is also a good chapter or two on the Enigma cracking in The Code Book by Simon Singh.

      The review of this movie that I saw said it was good, but not quite what it could have been, considering how incredible the actual story was.

      • I found 'Codebreakers - the inside story of Bletchley Park" (Hinsley & Stripp) pretty good.
        It is best read in concert with the Enigma chapters in Singh's 'The Code Book', though, as they leave the technical description of Enigma 'till fairly late in the book,
        so in some of the early chapters you have _no_ idea what they're talking about until you skip forward a bit.
        • I've found most of the article written/ TV about/ books about Enigma seem to concentrate on telling the story and gloss over the details of how they actually cracked the code. It's good to see a film for once that doesn't shy away from introducing the subject of mathematics to its audience.
  • by tps12 (105590)
    I have to say, I'm struck by the approach taken by the review. Most readers aren't going to click through to the full review, taking the snippet on the front page to be a summary.

    In this case it is an irrelevent rant that needlessly attacks Hollywood studios. I would argue that this editorial content almost certainly does not belong in a movie review (which should be studio-agnostic, IMO), and without doubt should not be representing the review on the main page.

    This doesn't even address the fact that comparing Gnutella users to the codebreakers in WW2 is a stretch, at best. Remember, those guys invented the computer in order to defeat Nazis. This is very different from sharing one's collection of Beck songs and downloading Simpsons episodes.

    • by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:17PM (#3510821) Journal
      This doesn't even address the fact that comparing Gnutella users to the codebreakers in WW2 is a stretch, at best. Remember, those guys invented the computer in order to defeat Nazis. This is very different from sharing one's collection of Beck songs and downloading Simpsons episodes.

      Not that I agree with them but a great many Gnutella users think that they're using it to defeat Nazis too. It's just that their definition of Nazis is based on greedy businessmen in Hollywood rather than fascist murderers in wartime Germany.

      Oh, and by the way, the code breakers at Bletchley Park didn't invent the computer - Charles Babbage did that a great many years earlier.

      • It's just that their definition of Nazis is based on greedy businessmen in Hollywood rather than fascist murderers in wartime Germany.

        I could define Nazis to mean bran muffins, and fight fascism during breakfast.

      • by lildogie (54998) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:32PM (#3510905)
        Charles invented the stored-program computer, but Blechley Park built the first electronic one. Theirs predated ENIAC, but it was secret, so the ENIAC builders thought they were first. See "The Code Book" by Simon Singh.
      • by dunstan (97493) <dvavasour.iee@org> on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:35PM (#3510934) Homepage
        Bollocks. The computers used *were* invented at Bletchley Park. Alan Turing invented the Bombes, and Tommy Flowers invented Colossus. And this was all years before Eniac BTW. But history missed out on this, because Churchill had everything from Bletchley Park destroyed at the end of the war - presumably to stop it from possible falling into Stalin's hands.

        Dunstan
        • "Alan Turing invented the Bombes"

          Err, no. The Polish Code breakers invented Bombes long before Blechley Park started really trying to crack the German codes. It was only when the enigma machines got an additional roter that the Poles turned over their designs for the bombes to the British, becuase the Poles didn't have the resources to build the much greater number of bombes that would now be needed.
          Also they wanted to get the code breaking ability out of their county before the pending German invasion.
      • That's the problem with /. If you seriously think that the systematic murder of six million plus the engulfing of the entire world into a disastrous war is morally equivalent to charging $5 too much for a CD and/or arresting two probably innocent encryption-breakers, you need to reevaluate your priorities.
      • WIAKywbfatw [slashdot.org] wrote:
        Oh, and by the way, the code breakers at Bletchley Park didn't invent the computer - Charles Babbage did that a great many years earlier.
        No, the computer was invented long before Babbage. We know from the Ankythera [etl.uom.gr] Mechanism [sunysb.edu] that at least one computer existed circa 87 BC [upenn.edu]. There is historical evidence to suggest that other, more complicated mechanical computers were built by the ancients; but the Ankythera device is the oldest extant machine. You can't play Quake on it, but it's still a computer.
    • those guys invented the computer in order to defeat Nazis

      As established in court [iastate.edu] the computer was invented before WW II [ameslab.gov] at Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts [iastate.edu] in Ames, Iowa [yahoo.com]

    • Damn straight, the article intro is, simply put, bullshit. It's also important to remember that, outside of the context of a war, shooting large numbers of people with a gun is about the most evil thing one can do, but no one tries to make the argument that "because it was okay to do this to the Nazis in WWII, it's okay to do it to Hollywood today." Well, no one aside from that dumbfuck with the .sig saying that Osama should have bombed Hollywood and Disneyland.
  • Slashdot FUD? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chibi (232518) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:08PM (#3510771) Journal

    So, what's the point of using a purposefully misleading intro paragraph? Slashdot is where I learned of the acronym "FUD" ("Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt," for those who do not know) but it seems like putting a misleading intro like this will help spread it, rather than help stop it.

    How many people do you think will only read the main page, and go away thinking it's the truth? Yeah, it's their own fault for not reading the entire story, but everyone is guilty of this from time to time.

    • I thought it rather refreshing to lead off with such a bald troll.
    • I found it rather witty, even though I did feel deceived. The intro was plausible enough to pass a 2-second inspection. It would have been much worse, though, had the joke been less funny, misspelled, you name it. Rather shocking that timothy posted this one, as he's usually the worst about posting misleading stories, endless duplicates, etc. Seems the one who submitted the article wrote the lurid intro; timothy just made the editorial decision to post it.

      I bet when they look at the logs for this story, and see how many extra hits it got, a light bulb will pop up in someone's head.

      • Rather shocking that timothy posted this one, as he's usually the worst about posting misleading stories, endless duplicates, etc.

        You don't know what a relief it is to hear someone else say that. For the longest time, I thought it was just me who had problems with Timothy.

        I wonder though, do others really care or is it simply a case of everyone-is-going-to-bother-someone?

        I.e. some folks here seem to like Katz, some don't, and many feel strongly one way or the other. Is Timothy simply my Katz and I should quit complaining? Or is he really a really bad editor? Are there big Timothy fans out there? Are there other people who, like me, would really like to see him move from a Slashdot Editor to a regular member?

        -Bill

        BTW, Yes, I realize this is off-topic, or can be peceived as a troll, etc. But then again, these are the discussion boards of Slashdot, and sometimes Off-Topic is appropiate. Some of the best threads I remember from the hey-days of Usenet were the ones, that by strictist definition, were "off-topic" ones. Anyway, mod me down I guess, if you feel that strongly that this converstation shouldn't even take place.
    • I thought it was pretty good, and I'm afraid to say that I was only mildly surprised to think that Hollywood might make a movie like that....

      Anyway, it wasn't a purposefully misleading paragraph, it was making a very valid, and effective, point. Hats off to all involved.

      • I'd tend to second that, you know it's a movie, you know it's a review, if you don't well now you know.

        Good journalism is also catching the interest of the reader. This worked for me and I had the exact same reaction than you "heck hollywood releasing something like that? Its probably going to have a twist and a big moral issue with how bad file swapping is and other BS, let's read on" :)

        This I find amusing, compared to april 1st when all the subjects were totally lame. Anyways, obviously when you have 100,000s of readers, you will never get everybody on your side, you'll always do something good, excellent and bad at the same time.

        Anyways, I've found that amusing.
    • Re:Slashdot FUD? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rde (17364)
      How many people do you think will only read the main page, and go away thinking it's the truth?
      Two points about this:
      1. It's on /. That doesn't make it the truth, irrespective of how many paragraphs you read.
      2. It's about a movie. If you go to see it based on a review you didn't read, you deserve to be disappointed.
      3. It's a movie about codebreaking, and it's called Enigma. How much of a clue do you need?
      4. I meant three points.
  • I was hoping Neal (Stephenson) would have been able to get Crypto made into a movie...perhaps it would be redundant now.

    I just wanted to see who they would cast as America Shaftoe! (and maybe Glory too, except for the leprosy...)

    • One other thought... was Qwghlm a caricature of some location that actually exists in the UK or was it a total figment of Stephenson's imagination like the TWA 800 ceiling ornament?

      /Brian
      • As I understand it, it's a caricature of Wales and the Welsh. Since most of the locations in the book are based on his piece for Wired, where he went around the world tracking the laying of fiber-optic data lines, he had plenty of first-hand experience in the Phillipines, the South Pacific, and other places.
  • by jpm242 (202316) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:10PM (#3510779) Homepage
    You bet it is, I wouldn't be surprised if Hitler takes this to the courts!

    JP
    • You bet it is, I wouldn't be surprised if Hitler takes this to the courts!

      Not the first time American moviemakers have been worried about Herr Hitler and IP litigation: the song the German soldiers sing before the rousing Marseilleise scene in "Casablanca" (1942)is "Die Wacht am Rhein" (never a Nazi favourite), rather than the far more appropriate "Horst Wessel Lied," because the latter was still in copyright...
      • Re:DMCA violation (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gotan (60103)
        Interesting enough Hitlers Book "Mein Kampf" ("My Fight") is kind of forbidden in Germany. This is done by using the copyright that lies with Bavaria (one german state), they just insist on their copyright and refuse to print the book. The copyright outside of germany isn't in their control though (i believe it lies with some britain company), so it can be printed elsewhere.

        All this is not very effective (there's still some copies about in old attics, most are probably 'imported' from outside) and does more to propagate the book by mystifying it than to avoid it's distribution. It would make far more sense to distribute annotated copies to demonstrate what a load of bullshit the book is (there's an artist reading and commenting selected passages from the book, doing just that).

        As for the Horst Wessel Lied: it's forbidden in Germany, performing it in public will get you in trouble (and rightly so), ID-soft replaced it in their german version of Wolfenstein, and even films critical of the 3rd reich will probably run into legal troubles in germany if they include it. Also it's apparently covered by some complex copyrights.
  • NAZI's and DMCA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by quantaman (517394) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:10PM (#3510781)
    I can just imagine Hitler waving the DMCA at the British during WWII when they finally cracked the Enigma! Still interesting to think about how the NAZI's would of felt about the DMCA. Control of the flow of information and ownership of information (and everything else) is a basic principal of any fascist state. I don't think the NAZI's would look too lightly on any sort of circumvention devices.

    • Re:NAZI's and DMCA (Score:2, Informative)

      by peddrenth (575761)
      The original codebreaking was never in question here, the author's point is:

      One of the uses to which this movie can be put is to decode something which the reviewer used to copy-protect his work. (remember, the infringing use does not have to be the primary use of a circumvention device)

      With a copy of this movie, I would be able to do something illegal (i.e. read and copy a paragraph of encrypted text) which would not be otherwise possible.

      Now, everyone check your browser settings. If it caches any pages, I'm suing you all for copying this post.
    • Re:NAZI's and DMCA (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Erasmus Darwin (183180) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:36PM (#3510939)
      "Control of the flow of information and ownership of information (and everything else) is a basic principal of any fascist state."

      And complete lack of control/ownership of information (and everything else) is a basic principal of any anarchistic state.

      Any government requires citizens to give up certain freedoms in order to exist. For example, I am generally prohibited from walking into a busy shopping mall and firing a gun into the air. The goal is to walk the careful balance between too many freedoms (allowing people to randomly shoot people on the street, allowing strangers to wander through your house at 3 am) and too few freedoms (disallowing political dissent, making all property owned by the state).

      It's unfair to reject the notion of controlling information simply because it's something that fascists took to the extreme. You're welcome to argue that the current information control in "free" countries is too far towards the fascist side, but that requires a more detailed, relative judgement.

      To further make the point, incarceration of law breakers is also a basic principal of any fascist state. And yet that doesn't make our jail system inherently wrong.

      All that being said, I do believe that the DMCA does go too far at times. I do not, however, disagree with the underlying motive of reducing copyright infringement.

      • I agree with you 100%, but I would like to add to that. I think the DMCA takes the control of information to a level much like that of a fascist state. Just look at all the legitimate things it has been wreaking havok upon, decss, ebook decrypting, crypto research, bnetd, google/xenu.net, etc.(there's quite a few more, but I can only name so many off the top of my head)

      • All that being said, I do believe that the DMCA does go too far at times. I do not, however, disagree with the underlying motive of reducing copyright infringement.

        The problem with the DMCA is that it is overly broad: you don't have to be accused of infringing copyright, you don't have to be accused even of thinking about infringing copyright, you can be accused of having the tools that would allow you to infringe copyright. If those tools have another, legal use, well, too bad.

        To be precise, the DMCA forbids you to have anything that can be used to break digital rights management. If we accept the idea that someone might use Enigma to encode content to protect their digital rights, then we can argue that a movie which shows how to crack enigma is illegal under the DMCA. This is preposterous, of course, which is why the DMCA itself is preposterous.

        I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the DMCA does not forbid the Enigma movie now... but if someone were to use Enigma to protect content, then the movie could arguably become contraband under the DMCA. If you really worried about the DMCA, you had better not ever crack any encryption of any sort, or talk about it. Now that's what I call a "chilling effect" on free speech!

        By the way, it isn't maybe such a stretch to think that someone might use Enigma to protect content; the laughably weak ROT13 scheme has already been used to "protect" PDF files. Dmitry Skylarov spent some time in prison in the US, and part of the reason was that he presented a lecture on how to crack the ROT13 protection on a PDF file.

        steveha
        • but if someone were to use Enigma to protect content, then the movie could arguably become contraband under the DMCA

          The author explicitly uses the Enigma system to protect a sentence! So it's happened.
      • Freedom of information is the sine qua non of democracy:
        It is impossible to make a free decision on the basis of
        controlled information; without freedom of information,
        the government is illegitimate.

        The US is now a facist oligarchy, in which a seething mass
        of media wonks, intelligence hacks, and monied interests
        battle for ever increasing shares of the power once reserved
        to the electorate. There can be no democracy in the US because
        there is no effective dissemination of the crucial pertinent
        facts regarding current events, and because the state has
        systematically indoctrinated the plebians into a willing
        servitude, through the state schools and the allied media.

  • the intro copy probably was as funny as PetsorFood.com [petsorfood.com]

    no, actually that place is funnier, if a bit sick.

    I think the PBS documentary on Enigma was probably more on the money, but not as viable for Hollywood type profit motives.

  • Hmmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gizzmonic (412910)
    I balk at your comparison between Big Media and the Nazis. And l33t H4x0rz vs. Bletchley Park? Todebreakers of that time don't have too much in common with today's copyright-circumventing hackers.

    The fictional encomium to hacking (the Cryptonomicon) tries to draw a parallel, but let's not forget that the codebreakers of WW2 were trying to save their country. They didn't think "information wants to be free"-as a matter of fact, the fact that Enigma was broken was one of the most jealously guarded secrets of the war.

    Today's hackers (or "crackers" if you prefer) are mostly motivated by challenge and ego. Although there is a mythological character called "the good hacker," he coincides with reality about as much as the "honorable thief."

    • by danro (544913)
      Today's hackers (or "crackers" if you prefer) are mostly motivated by challenge and ego

      Have you ever met a matematician?
      Because the sentence above seems to be a pretty accurate description of most I met...
      ...and I am sure that goes for the chums at Bletchley Park too.
      Saving their country was probably just a perk to them.
      (Albeit a really nice one.)
  • by GuyMannDude (574364) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:19PM (#3510840) Journal

    This movie may dramatize the codebreakers as sex symbols and symbols of power but this was certainly not the case in real life. Consider the case of brilliant Alan Turing. He essentially led the effort to break the Engima code. How did society repay him? He was an outcast for being an "out" homosexual. He was harrassed throughout his life (read more [lambda.net]). The British government let the professional and personal attacks on him continue because they didn't want to reveal his role in helping to crack the code, even years after the war was over. Unable to accept the fact that the same government he did an incredible service for now actively attacked him, he committed suicide. The "we need to keep his role secret" excuse is rediculous. No one raised a stink when Churchil published his memoroirs, which were filled with sensitive material.

    I don't suppose the true story of Turing made it into this film at all.

    GMD

    • I don't suppose the true story of Turing made it into this film at all.

      According to IMDB [imdb.com], there's no character named "Turing" at all, so unless they all have fictionalized names, he doesn't even play a part.

      It would be sad, though, if he was left out completely, and there wasn't a least a character who "represented" him.
    • by TrevorB (57780) on Monday May 13, 2002 @04:32PM (#3512159) Homepage
      It's very sobering to realize that many of us owe our very existance to Alan Turing.

      In the Nova special "Breaking the Code", they speculated that Turing's work probably cut WW2 down by about 2 years. My father was born in 1945, and my Grandfather fought at the Battle of Casino in Italy in 1944.

      Without Turing, my Dad might not have even been born (spare me quantum causality arguments about butterfly wings or Churchill sneezing. :)

      Turing deserves praise for his work and recognition for how he was abandoned by the UK govt, even if it's posthomously and 50 years after his death.
    • One of the reasons that the British government was quiet about Turing's role was that they wanted to keep it a secret that the Enigma machines had been compromised. According to a book on the subject (The Codebreakers, Kahn, 1996, ISBN 0-684-83130-9):

      The great story of the solution of the Enigma machine ... remained a tightly held secret for almost 30 years. ... The British government insisted upon this because it had given the thousands of Enigma machines that it had gathered up after the end of the war to its former colonies as they gained independence and needed secure systems of communication.

      Is this a nobler excuse than the "we don't want to bother helping a homo" excuse? Not really, but it might put a different perspective on Turing's tragic life.

    • I've read Churchill's 6-volume history of WW2, which was done in the early 1950's, and in it he seems to pussyfoot around the issues of codebreaking, refering to it only obliquely, talking occasioanlly about knowing where the Germans were going to be next by way of "special intelligence" techniques. The word "Enigma" didn't even appear. Now, one might imagine that this is because the books were written at a very vague high-level, except that they *did* go into a lot of detail about a lot of other science projects being funded by the war effort, like the atom bomb, and all sorts of radar jamming and misdirection techniques. (Including a long-winded explanation of something that I think is what we call "chaff" today - a bunch of aluminum strips at just the right length to match the German radar wavelength, dropped from a few plane sto flutter down, would show up as a large group of planes on German radar screens, and this method was used to redirect fighter defenses to bogus locations as a diversionary measure, including during the landing on Normady. Great care was also made in the books to describe the fact that British radar engineers reverse-engineeed one of the German navigational radar becons used by nighttime bombers, and figured out how to not just jam it, but actually deflect the beacon a few degrees to trick bombers into dropping their payload onto empty fields instead of cities.

      And yet, with all of that, no mention was made of Enigma, which should have equal or greater prominience to those projects.

      So I do think there really was something to the claim that the Brits did't want to reveal too much about Enigma and that's why they kept silent about Turing's involvement.

  • by dwheeler (321049) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:24PM (#3510863) Homepage Journal
    If you're interested in cryptography, and you can get to Maryland (USA), visit the National Cryptologic Museum [nsa.gov]. Among other things, they have an Enigma there. If you can't go and visit yourself, here's their picture and a short description of the Enigma [nsa.gov]. They have lots of other exhibits too, and there's no entrance fee. Last time I visited, they even let you play with an Enigma, so you could encrypt and decrypt messages with it.
    • I agree, it's a really cool museum. They have several enigma machines, though, not just one, and (part of) a giant codebreaking computer used in the United States during WW2, based on a Turing design, IIRC.

      I caught part of a guided tour last time I was there. The tour guide said that next year the Korean War section would be much more interesting...because stuff from that era would finally be declassified (!)

      It's on 295 (Baltimore-Washington Parkway), right next to the NSA.
  • -1, Troll (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by foobar104 (206452)
    I really, really wish you could moderate stories as well as comments.
  • by Mignon (34109)
    This movie is about sex and mathematics and the crucial satisfaction that comes from understanding the depth of their power.

    Sex and mathematics?

  • The Real Story (Score:5, Insightful)

    by instinctdesign (534196) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:25PM (#3510868) Homepage
    I've heard good things about the film, and hopefully it will get to a screen near me. I would also highly recommend, if your interested in documentaries about the real story, Nova's excellent "Breaking the Code. [pbs.org]"

    Its really amazing some of the details that people never hear about breaking the Enigma code. One quick fact/story that I remember (obviously paraphrased and correct me if I make any errors, its been a bit since I last saw it): One of the first versions of the Enigma code that the British were able to crack, was the Luftwaffe code. How? To set up the machine to decode the enigma code, you needed to base the rotors off a three letter unencrypted sequence and another three letters that were encrypted. Unfortunately for the Germans, the operators got lazy all too often. If the first three letters were HIL, any guess what the next three encrypted were? Yup, TER, spelling out "Hitler." Other operators would use their names or their girlfriend's. It wasn't that the code was flawed, it took the German operators, inadvertently of course, to help the British break their own enigma.

    Its in many ways analogous to the great majority of system problems now, open ports, unpatched software, etc. Any system can be nearly perfect, until you add a human to run it. ;-)
    • If the first three letters were HIL, any guess what the next three encrypted were, Yup, TER, spelling out "Hitler."

      Now, most of us would think that spells HILTER, but we're not brilliant mathemeticians like Alan Turnig!

    • I believe this german coders were the same ones that afterwards were send to the famous "LCWC ESFN" battalion in the Russian Front. The "Lazy Coders Who Can't Even Spell the Fuher's Name" battalion were famous for its bright collored uniforms and its high turnover.
  • Alan Turing (Score:5, Informative)

    by gwernol (167574) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:25PM (#3510870)
    My biggest concern about the movie, which I haven't yet had the chance to see, is that it seems to miss out the role of Alan Turing. Turing, for those who don't know, was one of the founders of computing. He lead the team that built one of the first digital computers and developed the theoretical foundation for all of modern computing. He is an absolutely key figure in 20th. century science, perhaps as important as Einstein.

    He was also a leading figure at Bletchely Park and it is highly doubtful that Enigma would have been broken without him. If you were to single out one figure as the key to breaking the code it has to be Turing.

    So its worrying that a film of this critical moment in world history seems to muddy [cryptographic.co.uk] the role of Turing. Andrew Hodges who wrote the review I link to, wrote an excellent biography [amazon.com] of Turing that should be required reading for anyone who considers themselves even remotely a geek. Turing achieved more in his sadly shortened life than most of us could dream of. The fact that the story of Bletchley Park has been turned into a film that excludes Turing is truly sad.
    • Re:Alan Turing (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Dante (3418)

      I agree; and the fact that he way gay probably had somthing to do with that. I think thats a shame, romance and gay still don't mix in Hollywood's minds.

      There was a play on Turing though.BREAKING THE CODE [turing.org.uk] I allways wanted to see it. Derek Jacobi rocks!

      BTW I own a first addition American of the Hodges book.

      • I agree; and the fact that he way gay probably had somthing to do with that. I think thats a shame, romance and gay still don't mix in Hollywood's minds.

        I agree - the film makers were looking for a way to turn the story of the Bletchley Park codebreakers into a romance, so "obviously" the leading man had to go after the girl. It is a shame.

        There was a play on Turing though.BREAKING THE CODE [turing.org.uk] I allways wanted to see it. Derek Jacobi rocks!

        I was lucky enough to see Jacobi in Breaking the Code when I lived in the UK. He was, indeed, excellent as AMT. I was also lucky enough to meet Robin Gandy [turing.org.uk] who was one of Turning's students and a major mathematician in his own right. Its a crime that Turing was harried into an early suicide; we can only wonder what he might have achieved if he had lived.
        • I agree--the film makers were looking for a way to turn the story of the Bletchley Park codebreakers into a romance, so "obviously" the leading man had to go after the girl.

          Hey--most of us are heterosexual. Guys don't want to see two guys falling in love; gals don't want to see two gals falling in love. Why waste money on such a thing? I want to see some a guy and a girl fall in love. And so do the vast majority of men and women.

          Now, turning it into a romance in the first place is the bit I find dubious. Why bother? Why must every movie have a love interest?

    • Enigma broken without him? That might be a bit of a stretch. You can thank the Poles for doing most of the tough work. They spent a lot of time breaking Enigma codes before they were invaded, while France and Britian sat on their thumbs and looked worried.
      • Enigma broken without him? That might be a bit of a stretch. You can thank the Poles for doing most of the tough work. They spent a lot of time breaking Enigma codes before they were invaded, while France and Britian sat on their thumbs and looked worried.

        I don't think so. The mathematical analysis to break the code was largely a joint effort of which Turning was a part. But the important part was the ability to reproduce the crack in a mechanical way, given that the code rotated every 24 hours and effectively had to be rebroken each time. Even once you know the algorithm to break a code, it couldn't in practice be done in anywhere near real time without a computer. So Turing effectively built a computer to very quickly do the math and break a code.

        Without the machine, codes would have taken months to break, making the unencoded information essentially useless. I think Turing's achievement, which also laid the foundation for most of modern computation, was indeed essential to the war effort. Without it the breaking of the Enigma code would have been an interesting academic exercise only.
        • Machines to automate the code breaking process were developed, but most were mechanical and operated by humans who cranked away until one of them broke the code for the day. Sometimes the code fell quickly, other times it never was. Computers were developed during this time to aid in the cracking of the code, and Turing did play a large role in this.

          For the most part, once the mechanics of Enigma were established (for the early Enigma codes, mostly the work of the Poles), cracking German codes was done by brute force.

    • Re:Alan Turing (Score:4, Interesting)

      by seldolivaw (179178) <meNO@SPAMseldo.com> on Monday May 13, 2002 @04:30PM (#3512144) Homepage
      Maybe the reason so many stories seem to leave out Turing's role (Cryptonomicon is a wonderful exception) is the distasteful and appalling way he met his death. Turing was gay (and fairly openly so, for the time). The government put him through a number of disgusting "conversion therapies" (including electroshock, etc. if I recall correctly) and he eventually took his own life. It is an appalling abuse of human rights by the British government, and perpetrated against a man who single-handedly did an enormous amount to help end the war.
  • by return 42 (459012) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:27PM (#3510876)
    Producer: What a great idea! Let's tell the story of how brilliant hackers cracked the German codes and won WWII. Oh, wait, little problem here. The chief hacker was (gasp) a poofter. Horrors! The audience won't like that!

    Writer: I know! We'll fictionalize it, then we can have a nice straight protagonist, the audience will like it, and we'll still get to tell a cool story!

    Someone way down on the totem pole: But isn't that kind of dishonoring the memory of the genius who actually did the work?

    Producer: (Hands over ears) LA LA LA LA I can't hear you...

  • Role of the Poles (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dunstan (97493) <dvavasour.iee@org> on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:28PM (#3510880) Homepage
    We Brits often complain about how war films are slanted to play up the American involvement because that's where the money for the films comes from (cf Memphis Belle). After the British release I heard an interesting radio interview where a Polish veteran was complaining about how the Poles don't get a proper share of the glory in this story.

    [minor spoiler alert] The point he was making was that not only did the Poles find the machine in the first place, but if they hadn't kept quiet about it for the duration of the war then Hitler would have abandoned Enigma much sooner, or at least have had an inkling that his communications were being intercepted. But the secrecy surrounding the codebreaking operation was so good from *all* parties that Rommel went to his grave cursing the spy who was giving away information from his signals back to Germany.

    There was an excellent series on Channel 4 about the operation about three years ago, and I would assume that it has been aired on PBS (though maybe not because it isn't exactly complimentery towards our American allies). Enigma makes the whole subject into a story, but the subject also bears telling in a documentary style.

    Dunstan
    • The Polish government in exile was based in Britain and their surviving pilots flew with the RAF and the Army Air Corps. Most of these guys were tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed, dashing and had "cute" accents. Needless to say, they got all of the girls when they happened to be around. The piqued American personnel started telling Polack Jokes........
  • I know that I keep bringing this up but perhaps the best history of military cryptoanalysis in print is The Codebreakers by David Kahn. It devotes about four novel length chapters to World War II cryptography alone and also describes the first cryptographic war for the airwaves during World War I.



    it also points out that one of the big revolutions in military cryptography was the coordination of code making and code breaking. The only way to make a good code is to try to break it. Knowledge of practical code breaking was never intended to be distributed outside of military circles, even to the point where the National Security Agency attempted to block publication of The Codebreakers for even revealing obsolete historical details of World War II cryptoanalysis. As a result the comparison between military cryptoanalysts and copyright crackers is a bit overdrawn. Many of the codebreakers were also involved and creating and testing military codes to hide information from the public.

  • by Graspee_Leemoor (302316) on Monday May 13, 2002 @02:18PM (#3511204) Homepage Journal
    I remember seeing this at the cinema last year, and thinking: "It had better have a lot of either codebreaking or Kate Winslet Naked".

    Unfortunately, while codebreaking and Miss Winslet are present, neither is revealed in enough depth to be interesting.

    The only thing that saved the film for me was the period detail.

    graspee

  • Wrong generation and wrong spin. "Enigma" is about good codebreakers -- the mathematicians and clerks of Great Britain's Bletchley Park who helped the Allied cause during World War II by breaking...

    I thought Dante and Randal were in New Jersey...

    Maybe I'm wrong.
  • If you're interested in Enigma you'll probably find this interview [newrivervalley.com] with Jack Good very interesting.
  • by kristan (53139)
    I hate to nitpick and complain (well, I guess I don't or I wouldn't be doing this) but I can assure you all that the film was not "wildly" popular here in Britain. While it may not have been a flop exactly, it was as close to "straight to video" as you can get...
  • by extra88 (1003) on Monday May 13, 2002 @03:00PM (#3511491)
    He's written for multiple media but I think he is still considered primarily a playwright. He is probably best known for his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It's a good sign to see his name on a writing credit.

    I found a decent page about his various works. A Tom Stoppard Bibliography [geocities.com]

  • > The film closely follows the novel, although
    The link here incorrectly points to:
    http://www.enigmathemovie.com/

    The correct link is:
    http://www.enigma-themovie.com/ [enigma-themovie.com]

    Thanks Google! [google.com]
  • DMCA/Enigma (Score:3, Interesting)

    by henben (578800) on Monday May 13, 2002 @03:49PM (#3511799)
    Whatever you think of the DMCA/P2P apps issue, it's a totally different thing from the effort to break Enigma. Defending fair use is important, but hardly in the same league as defending the free world from the Nazis.

    Your lame, forced comparison cheapens the achievement of the Bletchley Park codebreakers and the Allied troops who risked their lives to capture Enigma material.

    It also makes you look like a whining tosser who thinks his right to download an MP3 is as important as the rights and freedoms won in WWII.

    I think the DMCA is bad too, but for fuck's sake, don't do this kind of thing again.

  • by Jon Howard (247978) <howard@jon.gmail@com> on Monday May 13, 2002 @04:13PM (#3512023) Journal

    It isn't a factual account of Turing's experiences, nor of WW2 in general, but it's a well-written book set during WW2 (not entirely), with a heavy focus on cryptography. The reason I bring it up is tat it is so bent on cryptography (who'd have guessed?), and Enigma has a cameo.

    Cryptonomicon is engaging, I had great difficulty putting it down, though the instructional detail used to describe various technical feats compelled me to set it aside for a minute to give them a go myself. Stephenson has a solid grasp on many technical concepts, even if he doesn't get all of them 100% correct (you'll get no spoilers from me!).

    All of that, and he even observes Turing's professed sexual preference in a much more honest (read: less inverted) manner.

  • the real story (Score:2, Informative)

    by KingPrad (518495)
    If they had done their homework better they would know the Engima was broken by a lone polish mathematician. Only when Poland was invaded did Poland tell other countries they had been reading the code for years. Up till then, no one had believed it possible.

    The British then set up the team to extend the work and deal with the increasing complexity of the Enigma machines. Yes, they made awesome breakthroughs, but the Polish did the basic work much earlier.

  • The only problem with the intro is that instead of being funny, it was misleading. Why? Because something like that would not surprise many of us. Well, not much more than the disney channel airing cartoons aimed at kids to explain why trading music is illegal. In fact, I'm kind of curious why they haven't done it. It seems like the perfect ploy, using their influence on the movies to bend everyone to their will. Oh wait, they're allready doing that...

    Seriously though, look for something like this in the makings. Except that the file swappers and reverse engineerers will, of course, be the 50 year old villains who much be stopped by a group of pre-teen children.
  • ...or we'd have the story transposed to an US setting, never mind history.

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Mother Nature cannot be fooled. -- R.P. Feynman

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