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After Weeks of Trying, UK Cryptographers Fail To Crack WWII Code 263

Posted by timothy
from the reopen-bletchley-park dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A dead pigeon discovered a few weeks ago in a UK chimney may be able to provide new answers to the secrets of World War II. Unfortunately, British cryptographers at the country's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been unable to crack the code encrypting a message the bird was tasked with sending and say they are confident it cannot be decoded 'without access to the original cryptographic material.'"
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After Weeks of Trying, UK Cryptographers Fail To Crack WWII Code

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  • Its worse than that. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2012 @06:50PM (#42077469)

    My Aunt was a radio communication specialist in the channel islands where they communicated with the underground and later the anti Nazis within the third reich. My Dad was involved in counter espionage within Great Britton. They were both recruited by the Canadian military and then trained by the combined British and Canadian military intelligence division long before the US joined in.

    Not only was key info done with one time cipher it also used specialist language. For instance the word pie after decryption might be construed to be to mean supplies. Only the individuals who were taught the language could decode it and no more than a few individual agents sending info from within Germany or France used the same code specific language.

    If the pigeon corpse was from D Day then it would have been really early in the landing. As the beach head was secured the code receiving specialist people moved in to undisclosed places in Normandy. Are they absolutely certain the pigeon was from D Day? If not it may have been from other sources as my aunt told me there was some underground agents using them before 1944...Some even in the Dieppe region!

  • Re:No surprise there (Score:5, Interesting)

    by somersault (912633) on Friday November 23, 2012 @07:17PM (#42077683) Homepage Journal

    Nope..

    it is possible to "decrypt" out of the ciphertext any message whatsoever with the same number of characters, simply by using a different key, and there is no information in the ciphertext which will allow [the reader] to choose among the various possible readings of the ciphertext.

    Got that from this . It's an interesting read. In a message encrypted by a one time pad, even two letters right next to each other may not represent the same letter in the original plaintext.. [slashdot.org]

  • by LordZardoz (155141) on Friday November 23, 2012 @07:50PM (#42077919)

    What if that is not an encrypted message, but the encryption key for a message?

    I am not a cryptography expert, but I suppose there would be no way to discern the two right?

    If it is the key and not a message, than no amount of decryption effort would matter.

    END COMMUNICATION

  • Re:No surprise there (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OneAhead (1495535) on Friday November 23, 2012 @08:40PM (#42078323)
    Now you're just making a fool of yourself. People already linked you to a wikipedia page that explains in detail why you're wrong, yet you stubbornly refuse to read it (or perhaps you're too daft to understand what it says?)

    Here's a demonstration. From TFA, the secret message is:
    AOAKN HVPKD FNFJU YIDDC
    RQXSR DJHFP GOVFN MIAPX
    PABUZ WYYNP CMPNW HJRZH .
    NLXKG MEMKK ONOIB AKEEQ
    UAOTA . RBQRH DJOFM TPZEH
    LKXGH RGGHT JRZCQ FNKTQ .
    KLDTS GQIRU AOAKN

    My sources are telling me that "AOAKN" is most likely the identifier of the OTP or code page that was used, so the actual content of the message is
    HVPKD FNFJU YIDDC RQXSR
    DJHFP GOVFN MIAPX PABUZ
    WYYNP CMPNW HJRZH NLXKG
    MEMKK ONOIB AKEEQ UAOTA
    RBQRH DJOFM TPZEH LKXGH
    RGGHT JRZCQ FNKTQ KLDTS
    GQIRU

    Being a 1337 cryptography expert, I determined that the code page in the sender's code book started with:
    SBXDZ CUYSG ECWKO CMRSZ
    JRGOH DIRFA JRWEP LFXRK
    OLULB XHHAW UGKLL NUUKT
    JQPKX LMUGR IGRCC AHKCW
    OKMZZ LQOSK PPGNH YPPVW
    NRVDT RNHYD CNCCY RUVJO
    VCNNA
    Don't believe me? Go to this page [sharkysoft.com], copy-paste the above "actual content" in the field that says "input" and the key in the field that says "key", and click decode.

    Oh wait, I was wrong, the real key is:
    ZTLJV VJXRU VERZP YMUND
    PYLYB WBHJV ZUWCR ESJNL
    FMYUI KMCKU HWYID NIJTM
    ZBITS VNBFI TGIWG MLKQS
    RMQLD PWASI AHNAS LHFBN
    PWYUN XRTPM MVDFU HXKMO
    IUUAK

    Allright, I'm just messing with you, it's
    JHVGR QUHCQ YFZAC EILSG
    YVTCW PABZG QALLG HVBDG
    OLAZV LGLAS QJGWZ WHVRY
    YROWQ XBAPU WTIEY UTOHI
    YXZRU ALALV OPGXD USLCW
    YSBDI GNILZ OWTSM TUMCB
    PZANC
  • Re:No surprise there (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NF6X (725054) on Friday November 23, 2012 @09:31PM (#42078657) Homepage

    Well, that's a matter of semantics. If you implement a large-scale, properly-designed one-time pad system, but then a pair of lazy and/or ignorant code clerks re-uses individual OTP sheets for some of the traffic between them (contrary to orders and training, of course), then do we say "it's not a one-time pad system", or that "it's a misused one-time pad system"? Either statement might be arguably valid.

    Or maybe all of your code clerks properly use each sheet once and then immediately destroy it, but the factory that produced the keying materials messed up and included duplicate sheets mixed into some of the books, resulting in compromise of the system. Which has actually happened, by the way [wikipedia.org]. You might say that it wasn't actually an OTP system, or you might say it was an OTP system in which implementation mistakes were made which compromised some of the traffic. Those mistakes may have been unintentional errors or deliberate acts by undercover agents to weaken the system, but the folks who designed and oversaw the system intended to deploy a proper OTP system and thought that they were doing just that.

    Or maybe you create an OTP system, distribute good keying material without blunders like repeated pages, but then an undercover agent runs out of keying material, has no way to obtain more, and then must choose between stopping communication, communicating in plaintext, or re-using OTP sheets to get critical information through and hoping that the adversaries don't detect the situation. I lean towards calling this situation "not OTP", but it's still a matter of semantics.

  • Re:No surprise there (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gadzook33 (740455) on Friday November 23, 2012 @10:40PM (#42079021)
    Actually I read something interesting about WWII One Time Pads. Apparently the pads were generated by women (typically) drawing ping pong balls out of a hopper and writing down the letters. The problem was if they drew the same letter multiple times in a row, they might put it back thinking that it wasn't "random" enough. Of course, in doing so they changed the distribution of letters to no longer be uniform. My understanding is that this very quickly erodes the cryptographic integrity of the one-time pad to the point where you can start to look for the plaintext based on letter frequency. I'm not saying that's applicable here (and I have to imagine the cryptographers would have looked at this) but interesting nonetheless.
  • Re:No surprise there (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2012 @11:43PM (#42079351)

    Actually I read something interesting ...

    By 'something interesting' you must mean Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. I agree, it is quite an interesting book. One of my favorites in fact.

  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Saturday November 24, 2012 @01:01AM (#42079719) Homepage

    A clue does not help you a bit. The only thing you can get out of a OTP is the maximum length of the message, but not the minimum or actual length,. Everything else is completely arbitrary and depends completely on the key. You can literally decode all possible messages with that maximum length out of that encrypted sequence with the right key. All Twitter posts ever written, all messages passed around in WWII, a whole bunch of Haiku's and what ever else you want you can get out of that sequence with the right key. That encoded sequence is essentially just random junk without the original key. The only clue that brings you to the original message is the original key used to decrypt it.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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