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Television Media

Nazi Codebreaking Documentary 147

sharv writes "Fans of Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" might be interested in tonight's (9 Nov) episode of Nova on PBS. The episode is entitled Decoding Nazi Secrets and will feature the Enigma, Dr. Turing, and "meticulous period reenactments shot inside the original buildings at Station X, including recreations of the world's first computing devices that aided codebreakers". Sounds like a popcorn event to me! " Of course, for those in the States, check your PBS listing for showtimes.
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Nazi Codebreaking Documentary

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  • Enigma was broken by a machine (or set of machines) called the Bombe. A more complex wheel-cypher machine, called the Lorentz, was broken using Colossus. I hope to heck they show the rebuilt Colossus that Tony Sale put together at Bletchley Park. I had the privilege of standing in the middle of that thing when Tony turned it on around me. It runs on +400 volts.

    That was one of the high points of my professional career.
  • Also, you may be interested in reading
    David Kahn's "The Codebreakers". It seems to
    me that it was considered a significant work,
    at one time, but I haven't heard it mentioned
    for a while.
  • Dows anyone know if this is going to be telecast in Australia either in Cable or Free to Air?

  • With my first run through of Cryptonomicon complete, it left me wondering which parts of the book were real and which came from the overactive imagination of Neal Stephenson. If you haven't read the book yet, I reccomend it. Maybe when I'm done reading it for the fourth time I'll let someone borrow it. Too bad each read takes longer than the preceeding one. The first took four days. The fourth will probably take about a month.
  • I'm especially interested in the codes that they put up as a challenge. I've never really played around with such things before, but you crypto freaks around here have inspired me, I'm interested in seeing how hard it is to approach with no crypto knowledge but the resources of the net at hand.

  • I believe Enigma was broken mainly because Polish spies managed to acquire a working Enigma machine or the plans for one in the early years of the war. I have actually seen an Enigma machine. It looks like the bastard son of a gearbox and a typewriter.

    As well, isn't their software that allows a person to simulate a working Enigma machine? Of course, the version I am thinking of is for Windows...
  • by PhilA ( 18734 )
    sounds like a series that the beeb did very recently. If so, its worth watching, but its a bit thin on the technical detail.

    Incidentally, for a good explanation of how enigma et al really worked, Simon Singh's 'The Code Book' is a good read.
  • I wonder what the Allies of 1945 would have thought of the cryptography from today with all its primes and public keys...

  • This stuff has been shown on history channel numerous times even in US. I, not having the History channel, saw it a few times while I was residing at my friend's house. It is mostly that PBS is free, while history is a paid channel. This would allow greater audience to see it. Also, different channel might portray different parts as more important, and show different opinions on the same topic. Anything that will raise the awareness of average person (which is low) helps in the greater cause of free information.
  • The red frenzied penguin ate Malda's shortsink. Pleased to be reportink to the predesignated posting site immediately for multiple slashdotinks!! And do not touch da blinkin lights!

  • so some people (us foreigners), who dont have access to american tv-hosts, can see it aswell. Thanks.
  • Actually, the inner workings of the Enigma were known before the war; it was a German peacetime invention that was patented in several countries including the UK! One of the rare cases when trade secret might have been a better idea....

  • uk/andyc/enigma/enigma_j.html [] pplet/index.html []

    Two excellent emulators that show how the Enigma machine works. The first allows you to alter the machine settings, but it is not possible to track the electrical path through the scramblers. The latter has only one setting, but has a second window that shows the scramblers moving and the subsequent effect on the electrical path.

    If you're interested, for further reading check The Code Book [] (recently reviewed here on SlashDot []), Alan Turing: The Enigma [], and the out-of-print Seizing the Enigma [].

    Question: How do I leverage the power of the internet?
  • I believe Enigma was broken mainly because Polish spies managed to acquire a working Enigma machine or the plans for one in the early years of the war. I have actually seen an Enigma machine. It looks like the bastard son of a gearbox and a typewriter.
    Actually (don't you hate replies that begin with "actually?"), Polish intelligence were decades ahead of English intelligence (Room 40 during WW1, GSCS later) and made significant steps toward breaking one of the keys for a very early version of Enigma (a 3-rotor machine). The keys and the machines were changed regularly, however, and the work of the Poles offered little towards Turing (and others') efforts at Bletchley Park (GSCS) toward decrypting Enigma messages. Turing's methods depended heavily upon selecting individual encrypted words from Enigma messages, guessing what they were, and running the Bombes through (at a rate of 20 operations per second) the possible positions of the Enigma machine until finding one that could generate the corresponding guessed word, and then checking to see if, when set to that position, the machine could decrypt the rest of the message into anything intelligible. Upon the addition of more rotors to the Enigma, Turing made use of modern telephone switching technology to create a machine that could perform logical operations using electrical (not mechanical) states. A significant leap (and one which brought him closer to his long-dreamt-of Universal Turing Machine, a machine which, given certain elementary logic, could solve any solvable problem (Godel had already shown that not all problems were solvable). And so on...
  • The first thing I thought of when I saw this was, hmm ... I'll bet I can find an enigma machine on eBay.


  • Go here: Enigma machine on ebay []

    Sometimes, when I'm feelin' bored, I like to take a necrotic equine and assault it physically.
  • by DrewMIT ( 98823 ) on Tuesday November 09, 1999 @02:04PM (#1547904)
    Here's a paper I wrote a few years ago (as a junior in high school). Not the best writing in the world, but interesting if you're into the historical implications of technology

    Throughout the first half of World War II, Allied forces were struggling with a powerful, invisible foe known only as Enigma. Enigma was a device with lots of wiring and electromechanical rotors that was no larger than a television set. The intrigue and danger of Enigma was that is was a device that belonged exclusively to the Germans. The Germans used the Enigma's capability of generating codes in any one of 100 trillion possibilities to outmaneuver their enemies. The exact workings of the Enigma are beyond the scope of this paper; suffice it to say that it was originally believed to have taken 1,000 code breakers working twenty-four hours a day for 14.5 years to break one Enigma code (Momsen Chapter 2). Even if an enemy was somehow able to produce the manpower required to break a single Enigma code, it was just a matter of the Germans turning a rotor one notch to generate a completely different code. What is more is that even if armed with another Enigma, the Allied forces would have needed to know the exact settings of the German sending machine in order to decrypt the codes. Hence, Hitler thought he had the perfect machine in the Enigma and relied on it for nearly all communications to the front.
    The Allies' spies were good enough to get a hold on a lot of information concerning the Enigma. They were able to piece together their own Enigmas from Polish plans and they were able to intercept Enigma codes. However, it had seemed impossible to be able to translate the codes into meaningful information. Eventually, code breakers were able to crack Enigma codes within a few months of reception, but by then, the information contained in the code was useless. The Allies turned to two machines for help.
    In the United States, project Magic was developed. Using the Polish machines known as bombes, the top cryptoanalysts in the nation scurried to break all intercepted codes. The US had the advantage of being able to intercept Japanese codes (the Japanese utilized a specially made version of the Enigma) which always began with the phrase "I have the honor to inform your excellency" (Momsen Chapter 3). This gave the codebreakers something to hone in on and the US was shortly decoding all of the Japanese transmissions. However, this information proved useless in cracking the German codes, and was not even that helpful against Japan since most of the information transmitted in code was already known by American intelligence.
    It was in Britain that the true key to cracking the Enigma developed. Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician was invited to take over control of the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) located at Bletchley Park. Here in Bletchley, Turing developed Colossus - arguably the world's first electronic computer. The details of Colossus are still foggy, partly because of its partial classified status, but mainly because the secret of Colossus died with Turing. What is known, however is that Turing was able to set up the Colossus machine to crack the German Enigma codes within minutes of receiving them. They were then translated to English and the Allies had a complete knowledge of what the Germans thought they were sending privately.
    The information generated by the Magic Project and Enigma was collectively referred to as Project ULTRA. Since the recent declassification of the project, historians have struggled to determine its effect in World War II. However, analysis shows the following to be true: The usage of project ULTRA did not cause the Allied forces to win the war. However, its usage allowed for better decisions on the part of Allied leaders and hastened the end of the war. Also, it is mandatory that historians go over their previous analyses of World War II to determine the effect of ULTRA on individual decisions and battles.
    There are several arguments that will be presented to point to this conclusion. First of all, ULTRA provided a direct link to the minds of Hitler and his advisors, allowing the Allies to learn how these men thought. Also, data about ULTRA's usage in individual battles shows that its value was immeasurable in hastening their end. It can also be shown that the events that were caused as a result of ULTRA knowledge would have happened anyway, it just would have taken longer and more lives would have been lost. Finally, it can be shown that since ULTRA was so long unknown to historians as a result of it being well protected during the war, historians must reanalyze previous conclusions on the war in light of its recent declassification.
    Part of the reason why ULTRA has rarely been referred to by historians is the way it was protected during the war. Simply put, no one outside of the ULTRA project was ever aware of its existence. And, since this was before the time of great public skepticism and conspiracy theories, there was little to no conjecture on the existence of such a project.
    The man who can be recognized for his efforts to keep ULTRA a secret is Alan Turing. The man behind Bletchley Park, Turing viewed Colossus as a child. He wanted to protect it from outside knowledge so he could keep it to himself. Since Turing was so bright and cunning, he was even able to prevent 90% of the scientists working at Bletchley from even knowing of the existence of Colossus. Much like the Manhattan Project, different people worked on different parts of the project so no one but Turing really knew the whole project (Lewin 113). And Turing, though not the only man to see the plans of the project, was perhaps the only man who ever understood them completely.
    Knowing that the location and physical characteristics of ULTRA was kept secret for so long is not enough to prove that the existence of the project was a secret. After all, ULTRA constantly produced reams of information about cracked German codes. Turing's response to this was simple. Not only would just a few people be allowed to receive ULTRA information directly, there would be no written transcript of this data. Additionally, all ULTRA information was passed directly from Bletchley Park to the officers in charge of troop movement via one person. A specially trained corps was created to shuffle between Bletchley and all portions of Europe to deliver the information verbally. These were the only people besides Turing and a few others at the GCCS and intelligence officials of the US government that knew of the existence of ULTRA. At first, commanding officers found it difficult to receive orders from lower ranked strangers (the ULTRA messengers), but soon learned it was in their best interest to do so. Another thing that should be noted about the messengers is that they were so well trained that none were ever captured, but if they had been captured, they were prepared to commit suicide (Winterbotham 21).
    Another major step to preventing the enemy from knowing about ULTRA was the way in which officials chose whether or not and how to use ULTRA data. If the Germans ever became suspicious that their Enigma was no longer safe, they would've stopped using it instantly. Instead, the Allies wanted the Germans to feel they could use Enigma since it provided direct insight into the workings of German forces. Therefore, no action was EVER made on the basis of ULTRA data unless it were theoretically possible the data was obtained elsewhere. For example, when it was made clear through ULTRA the exact locations of an entire fleet of German U-Boats, Allied ships in the area were instructed to send a sighting signal towards specific locations (Hinsley). Unbeknownst to the captains of these ships, these sighting signals were being intercepted by German forces. So, when the U-Boats were sunk by Allied bombers, German commanders assumed it was because of the sightings made by the Allied ships. In reality, had it not been for ULTRA, there is little chance that all of the U-Boats would have been sighted by Allied fleets.
    ULTRA was also protected through misinformation. German prisoners of war were released as unwitting carriers of Allied lies. While in prison, they "overheard" stories of an advanced Allied RADAR that could detect ships and planes a thousand miles away (Hinsley). This false information was relayed back to German headquarters, offering the Allies the opportunity to imply that information that was known about Germany was known from this RADAR, when it in fact came from ULTRA.
    It has only been a couple of decades since the existence of ULTRA was declassified (the process began in 1972). However, the specifics of Project Magic and of the Colossus machine remained very sketchy until recently. Sine Magic played only a nominal role in the European front, there has been little public outcry calling for more knowledge of it. However, Colossus was further "exposed" in F.W. Winterbotham's book, The Ultra Secret, first published in 1974. This was the first published account of ULTRA and of Colossus. Winterbotham was a British airman who became active with Bletchley Park during the war. As an indication of how well kept the ULTRA secret was, Winterbotham's book was originally believed to be a hoax by many. It wasn't until the British and US governments conceded the existence of ULTRA that Winterbotham's story was confirmed. Since most of the history on World War II had been written by this time, historians have been reluctant to go back over their previous conclusions in light of this revelation. This is why history books were oblivious to the value of ULTRA and continue to downplay its role in hastening the end of the war.
    No amount of reconnaissance intelligence could tell the Allies what the next Axis move would be. Although Allied spy technology had provided information on the locations of Axis armaments and troop movements, it was always hard to use that information to stay one step ahead of the Axis powers. ULTRA provided the necessary insight into the minds of the Axis leaders to win the war.
    Throughout World War II, the German U-Boats were the most successful submarines in battle. The deployment of these boats were undetectable by Allied RADAR, and they struck with lightning speed and efficiency. Until Colossus and Magic came online to produce ULTRA, it had appeared as if the Allies had lost the oceans. However, once the cryptoanalysts at Bletchley Park began to decode the Enigma broadcasts, the location of every U-boat was known within two-hundred yards (Winterbotham 128). Over the second half of 1941, Allied naval forces were able to reduce the size of the U-Boat fleet by a factor of 10 (Russell). ULTRA had won back the seas from the German U-Boats and ended the effectiveness of the Axis strategy to control the waters.
    Another advantage that ULTRA stole from the Germans was Blitzkrieg - lightning war. Rommel, as the commander of German forces depended upon the element of surprise for his fast, powerful, deadly attacks on Allied territory. However, since ULTRA information was available prior to many of these attacks, the Allies were able to position their troops and supplies in such a way that Blitzkrieg eventually proved to be a useless tactic. ULTRA also provided information about Rommel's supplies to Allied commanders. Whenever Rommel ordered tanks to the front, Allied troops would lay down mine fields. When Rommel began to run out of anti-aircraft fire, The Allies would bring in more bombers (Halter 27-29). ULTRA allowed the Allies to constantly be one step ahead of Rommel, thus avoiding heavy Allied losses and inflicting incredible damage to German armaments.
    Another weakness ULTRA revealed in German strategy was the fact that the Germans were often poorly organized. When preparing to invade England, the Germans sent out Enigma cyphers showing that the barges they had built in English waters were inadequately small. Thus, the Allies were able to ignore the barge building and concentrate their efforts on fighting the German Luftwaffe air force away from the British Isles. When the Luftwaffe launched their attack on the British Royal Air Force, they were met with an Allied force five times as large as they had predicted (Halter 18). Germany retreated and ULTRA saved England.
    Japanese leaders too, had their minds "probed" by ULTRA. The skeptical Japanese leaders relied much less on cryptography than Germany, so ULTRA was less successful in helping the Allies win the war in the Pacific than the war in Europe. However, Japan did use two forms of Enigma encryption, called "Red" and "Purple." Red and Purple were used right before Pearl Harbor, but since information on the invasion could not have come from any source but ULTRA, and ULTRA depended on corroborating sources to protect its secrecy, the information was withheld. Therefore, the decrypted message was never used to help the US fleet in Hawaii (Momsen Chapter 2). ULTRA did prove to be advantageous against Japan at the end of the war though. Red and Purple cyphers concerning the placement of Japanese troops were key with negotiations to end the war. Since the Allies knew where the Japanese forces were, they knew which Pacific countries were most in need of protection through the peace treaty (Hinsley). Also, ULTRA had decoded information sent to Japanese negotiators detailing what the Japanese government would settle for in terms of monetary, troop, and land losses. Armed with this information, Allied negotiators knew exactly what Japan would accept and were able to control the entire negotiation process (Hinsley).
    It is important to constantly realize that ULTRA was the most secretive "weapon" of World War II, and its secrecy depended on the fact that every Allied decision based on ULTRA had to be theoretically confirmed by another source. It is for this reason that ULTRA was ignored in Pearl Harbor. This is also why the German supply submarines, the milchcows, which were stationed throughout the Atlantic were attacked one by one even though ULTRA indicated the locations of the entire fleet (Halter 24). Even with this limitation, ULTRA intelligence was extremely effective in many battles.
    As has already been mentioned, ULTRA provided the Allies with invaluable information regarding the location of German U-Boats. The systematic destruction of these submarines made it possible for the Allies to ship supplies freely while hindering the Axis abilities to do the same. There were many other instances where ULTRA provided the key in Axis defeats. In the Battle of Matapan, Enigma signals were decrypted that gave warning to the British fleet that they would be attacked by Italy. Also, ULTRA gave information to the Allies that led to the sinking of the Bismarck in May '41 and assisted the Allied soldiers who were sent to Greece retreat without harm when decrypted transmissions showed that they could not beat the Germans in that battle (Hinsley).
    Additionally, having ULTRA allowed the Allies to force Germany into stalemates when Germany had more manpower as well as causing greater German losses when the Allies had more manpower. On the German attack of Crete, the attack was not thwarted, but high German losses made the German attack more detrimental than helpful for Hitler. Also, when Germany won the Battle of Gazala in '42, ULTRA data allowed the Allies to prepare for Rommel's attack on Egypt. By knowing the location of all supplies and reinforcements, the Allied forces starved Rommel of fuel and ammunition while the British waltzed towards am easy battle at El Alamein, ending all German hope of securing Egypt (Hinsley).
    Although ULTRA was obviously responsible for hastening the end of several battles, it probably caused nothing to happen that would not have eventually happened anyway. Since all ULTRA data was corroborated, it would have only been a matter of time before careful examination of available intelligence would have resulted in the same conclusions ULTRA provided. An analysis of some of the events of the War prove this statement.
    By keeping Rommel out of Egypt, Germany never had an opportunity to gain control of Africa. Had Hitler controlled the continent, many historians estimate it would have taken up to a year for the Allies to recapture it (Lewin 287). Also, according to Sir Harry Hinsley, German control of Egypt would have made it impossible for the Allies to control all of Northern Africa by May '43, as had really happened. Control of this region resulted in the opening of the Mediterranean to Allied ships. The opening of the Mediterranean made it possible to concentrate naval efforts off the Normandy beachheads for the D-Day invasion of '44. This domino effect shows that intelligence gained from ULTRA allowed the Allies to reach goals in quicker times than would have been possible without such knowledge.
    ULTRA also sped up the process of winning the war through enhancing communication between the US and the British governments. Since the British Colossus was largely responsible for breaking Enigma codes, and the American Magic was the main source of deciphering Japanese Red and Purple codes, the two powers were forced to combine their efforts. The combination of Magic and Colossus to form ULTRA was apparently unbeatable. Also, since relations had to be strengthened in order to support ULTRA, Churchill and Roosevelt were forced by circumstances to increase their trust of each other. This resulted in more shared decisions between the two countries, thus doubling the thought that went into each decision.
    In order to prove that the Allies would have won the War without ULTRA, there are three key points to look at. First of all, since Russia initially distrusted ULTRA data revealed to them since its source was never revealed (Halter 24), all Russian victories were achieved without ULTRA. The decisive Battle of the Bulge, in which Germany was halted from further Russian advances, showed Germany was defeatable without ULTRA's capabilities. Secondly, the US Government entered the war without relying on ULTRA from the beginning. However, many of the battles the US was first involved with (before the full operation of ULTRA) were decisive wins for the allies (Lewin 120). Therefore, American strategy was effective without ULTRA's assistance. The third, and most important point to look out, is the relative strength of the Axis and Allied powers. Germany and its allies were most effective in quick battles and short wars. The Allied forces, on the other hand, were used to centuries of multi-year wars. Also, the Allied forces had greater overall man and weapon power compared to the Axis powers. In the long run, ULTRA did not win the war -- it was inevitable -- it only served to hasten the war's end.
    The arguments presented have shown that ULTRA provided insights into the minds of German and Japanese leaders, ULTRA led to wins in many decisive battles, and that ULTRA only hastened inevitable events. It has also been shown that since real information on ULTRA has only become available recently, it is imperative that historians re-examine the events of World War II to determine where ULTRA had a considerable impact.
    This conclusion helps to explain a phenomenon that has occurred throughout history; technologically advanced nations will triumph over less technologically advanced nations. ULTRA was a combination of US and British technological superiority over Germany and Japan. The US use of the atomic bomb against Japan was another example of technological superiority, as was the US success over Russia in the Cold War. The final example of technological superiority advancing a nation over others is seen in present day Japan; being the most technologically advanced nation in the world, Japan is capable at holding the US economy at bay. The fact that ULTRA was another technological superiority adds more credence to the theory that technologically superior countries will lead the world.
    ULTRA also helps to provide answers to previously hard to explain situations of World War II. Originally, most nations believed the US had developed some sort of "advanced RADAR" that could find all the U-Boats in the world's seas. Yet, after the war, evidence of this RADAR never surfaced. It was, in reality, ULTRA that provided this information, which disproves the advanced RADAR theory. Also, ULTRA explains why Germany appeared so disorganized. It made little sense until recently how a country with such a smooth military machine could be defeated so decidedly. Now that it is known that the Allies knew everything the Germans were planning, it is easy to see how the Allied matching of all Axis moves would make Germany appear foolish. It also explains how the most advanced naval forces of the time, the U-Boats, were destroyed by decades old Allied ships.
    Perhaps the most important lesson that can be learned from ULTRA is the fact that history is not static. For close to three decades, no one outside of Bletchley Park fully understood or even know of the existence of ULTRA. Now, it becomes apparent that the current view of the way events took place in WWII may be entirely incorrect. It is necessary now for historians who are truly in favor of discovering the truth in history to examine all available documents and events pertaining to World War II to determine ULTRA's effects in the War.
    The most devastating effect of ULTRA to history (and perhaps the reason why many historians still continue to ignore its existence), is that it requires people to examine the ways history is viewed. The question now must be constantly asked of each explanation to a historical event, "Is this REALLY why?" Also, official government reports must be questioned. If two governments are able to keep ULTRA secret for thirty years, while successfully denying its existence the whole time, how can any "official" report be trusted? The answer is, everything must now be questioned; the effects ULTRA had on WWII are nothing compared to the effects it will have on the way history will need to be studied in the future.


    Primary sources:
    *Calvocoress, Peter. Top Secret Ultra. London: Cassel, 1980.

    Hinsley, Sir Harry. "The Influence of ULTRA in the Second World War." Babbage Lecture Theatre, Bletchley Park, England. 19 Oct. 1993.

    Cracked German Enigma code as found on page 372 of:
    Lewin, Ronald. Ultra goes to war. London: Hutchinson & Co., Ltd., 1978.

    Russell, Commander Jerry C. ULTRA AND THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE U-BOATS IN WORLD WAR II. Carlisle Barracks, PA, US Army War College, 1980.

    *Winterbotham, F.W. The Ultra Secret. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

    Secondary Sources:
    "Cryptography - Enigma Cypher." html.

    Fargo, Ladislas. The Broken Seal. New York: Random House, 1967.

    Goldston, Robert. Sinister Touches: the Secret War Against Hitler. New York: The Dial Press, 1982.

    Halter, Jon C. Top Secret Projects of World War II. New York: Julian Messner, 1978.

    Koczaczuk, Wladyslaw. "The Origins of the Enigma/Ultra Operation." mszdp:/enigmaa.html.

    Lewin, Ronald. Ultra goes to war. London: Hutchinson & Co., Ltd., 1978.

    Momsen, Bill. "Codebreaking & Secret Weapons in WWII - Chapter I 1926-1939."

    - - -. "Codebreaking & Secret Weapons in WWII - Chapter II 1939-1941."

    - - -. "Codebreaking & Secret Weapons in WWII - Chapter III 1939."

    Sale, Anthony E. "Colossus Rebuild."
  • Am i the only one sick of seeing every other story say, "Just like in Cryptonomicon?" It's as bad as Neuromancer in the 80's...

    Look, data havens! Just like in Cryptonomicon! Nope, there was never any such thing as offshore banking until it was invented in Crytponomicon, and now people have said, "gee what a keen idea. think I'll set one up." Ooh, encryption! Just like in Crytponomicon! Never mind the many times it's been mentioned before.

    Which is not to say I don't like the author... But damn. Overhype is making me sick.
  • I believe it's called reading a Word'97 file using an older version of Word.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    That way peeps who want to wade through your genius of a fscking high school paper could, and the rest of could skip it.

    hypertext is your friend...USE IT!!!!!!!!
  • Hmm.. the site [] on [] that was posted says the show is playing at 9 pm ET, but my local station says 8 pm PT.

    I guess that means everyone should check their local stations [].

  • Was anyone else caught off guard by "November 9 1999, 9 pm", thinking momentarily that November was the 9th month of the year?

    How many sides does a novagon have again? Or is that a nonagon?
  • I was about to post a very similar comment, but since you seem to have done so already, I'll just reply to yours instead. It's really annoying, especially in this case, where the topic has absolutely nothing to do with any science-fiction books. It's a documentary on codebreaking, an activity that's incidentally happened in thousands of science-fiction books, including Cryptonomicon. This is not enough of a link to justify mentioning the book.
  • by Bill Currie ( 487 ) on Tuesday November 09, 1999 @02:42PM (#1547912) Homepage
    Hehe, every now and then, I wander how those guys would react to, say, a dual celeron 450 with 128M of ram, 6.4Ghd, cdrom, 3d card etc. Heck, just the cdrom disk itself would probably amaze them, let alone the shear computing power (relative to their machines) available in just one of the cpus, let alone having two of them. I wonder if a G200 can be reprogrammed to crack Enigma codes, and how quickly it would do it.

    The coputing power available for less than $2k these days is just phenomenal compared to what was available at all back in the fourties. And going to the megabuck range of modern computers would seem absolutely magical to those early computing pioneers.

    Yes, I laugh at the power of a VIC-20 (and the other PCs of the time), but for both reasons. I laugh at their punyness compared to now, and their might compared to the 40's. Things have come a long way in the last 50 odd years. I wonder where computing will be after another 50 years: will desktop beowulfs have been superceded by something realy wild, or will we be stuck with Windows 2050 running on an Intel Merconium (and yes, I know exactly what that word means:).

  • You gotta love a channel that offers shows like Decoding Nazi Secrets, Time Travel, and the Breast of Loch Ness.

    If it was still sweeps we'd see a show about a Nazi Loch Ness monster who travels times to help the germas develop an ubercode.

    Yeah yeah I know PBS doesn't go for sweeps...

    "Hiel Herr Ness!"
  • Cunning! They've switched the Y and Z keys on the keyboard so that only a properly trained operator will be able to encrypt/decrypt messages. Those Nazis thought of everything!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'll be interested to see if this show presents anything new on the subject. During the last few years, several books have come out that give a pretty good analysis of the role of code breaking during WWII. These books have the advantage that they have access to declassified material that has finally been released.

    For instance, Clay Blair wrote two books on the U-Boat war. In them, he essentially plays down the role that breaking enigma had on defeating the U-Boat threat. Other factors such as HuffDuff (Hi Frequency Directional Finders), radar, convoy escorts, closing the air gap, and bad German strategic decisions were more critical to the Allied success.

    Another good book is Combined Fleet Decoded by Prados, which discusses the intelligence war against the Japanese Navy. It really helps if you already know something about the war in the Pacific.

    MacArthur's Ultra is another book you might be interested in although it is not as good as Blair or Prados' books.

    Finally, a new book just came out that I'm going to get and read; Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. This one should be very interesting. Our friends in Fort Meade have some of the Venona documents on-line at their web site. I read a few of these, which justs whets my appetite for more info.

  • Ok, you've got me -- what does "merconium" mean? I can't find it [], though I did find this [], which might be what you meant.

  • What the heck is Merconium?? I tried the ol' google on it and came up with this:

    gloria: Squirt Down my Leg
    ...Proscuitto In Utero * Parent Cult * Merconium Soup * Pregnant Pillow Talk... ml Cached (9k) New! Try out GoogleScout

    Hmmm, this harkens back to Intel's river motif, but what is this about ham in her uterus??

    Egad, there are strange things afoot for the year 2050...

    ~Jason Maggard
    "Cat, Hat, in French, Chat, Chapeau, in Merconium she's Proscuitto In Utero..."
    -Dr. Seuss
  • Hey, some of us have seen it already on Australian (or I would assume, British) TV

    neener neener neener...
  • Been 'n' gone. It was on ABC a couple of months ago. You could try calling them or the shop to see if it was released on vid; dognose just about everything they do these days is promoted & hyped to the max.

  • Another one of the code breakers at Bletchley during that time was Peter Hilton. He's a very interesting Mathematician who's done a lot of work in Number Theory, Combinatorics, and Crytography. I got to meet him two or three time as a Math/CS undergrad at Santa Clara University [] and his stories are unreal. He was very surprised to see that computers have advanced to the point that you don't have to get up and get some coffee before it's done with the desired computation! He's a very nice guy and I'm glad I got to meet him.
  • Why is it that history always credits Alan Turing with cracking Enigma, when in fact the Poles were reading Enigma encrypts prior to 1940? As I remember it Turing didn't become a player at Bletchley Park until about 1943, LONG after all of the theoretical work on the Enigma cipher had passed.

    The Poles had (primarily) 3 mathematicians that they trained in cryptography as early as 1936, because even then they feared a German invasion and thought that reading German Enigma traffic would be crucial.

    The main person who did most of the theoretical work in cracking Enigma was a man named Marjan Rajewski. There were 2 others, but I only remember one other name, Henri Zygalski.

    At one point the Poles were able to intercept a German diplocmatic shipment and capture an enigma machine and duplicate them. At that since the poles had captured some plaintext, with the corresponding cipher-text he was able through substitution to calculate the internal wirings of the Enigma rotors (of which the machine came with 5, but only 3 could be used at once. That is unless it was a Naval Enimga machine which used 4 rotors, the 4th did not rotate however.)

    As I recall, the Diplomatic Enigma machine might not have come with a STECKER (plugboard) but it was then a simple matter for the Polish engineers to add that to the diplomatic machine to get a fully functional Enigma machine.

    The single best reference I have found for Enigma history and information is THIS [] one. Though it is out of print.

    It's a great read if you can find it at your library. Many former Bletchley Park members have confirmed it as being factual as well.

    If anyone is interested I have some photos of various Enigma machines that I took at The NSA's Crypto Museum. I'll post a link if anyone would like to see them.

  • you need to drop the "r []", i think...

    Otherwise, that was funny.... t

  • Hehe, just goes to show that if you don't exercise extreamly careful key management, your encrypted messages are effectively just so much plain text. I take it the details of OTPs hadn't been sorted out by then (when were they?). I wonder why the Germans transmitted the same messages as both plain and encrypted text. Lazyness, or were they trying to transmit the keys in what they thought would be a secure manner (but winding up proving that security through obscurity doesn't work)? I guess one other possibility is the same information had to go to paries that had access to only either secure or insecure channels. Still, not exactly the brightest move from a security POV.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    > ... and the Breast of Loch Ness.

    Freudian typo? :)
  • Hmm, there seems to be two possible spellings, with the one I used not so common, at least in the US. Sorry guys, kinda spoiled the joke, I 'spose :(.
  • One rather dismaying point: The Polish mathematicians who did the majority of the early work were kept away from Bletchley for "security reasons" and were not able to contribute to the ongoing efforts.

    It's also interesting to note that initially the Allies were not particulary interested in the Polish breakthrough.


  • The documentary explained how the Luftwaffen "Red" code was broken because the operators were so convinced of the safety of their enigma encryption that they became lazy in their picking of code letters -- "LON" was followed by "DON", "HIT" by "LER". Seems analagous to the recent crack of the DVD encryption, where misguided trust in the encryption (and the apparent failure to consult anybody with half a brain) lead to lazy key selection.

    Yet another example of how human error due to undue faith in a "secure" technology can make any system vunerable.

  • However, when it comes to good documentaries and the like PBS does it best!!!!

  • Um, except that they have more in common than the crypto theme: some of the characters, places, and subplots are the same!

    The novel has Turing and he breaks Nazi codes. If it were a documentary about breaking Viet Cong codes or something, you'de be right. But the novel has Turing and Bletchley Park and Nazis, so what do you expect?

    Complaining about Cryptonomicon references is like complaining about Braveheart movies references when people are talking about William Wallace. Or singing tunes from the 1776 musical when talking about the Declaration of Independence. :-)

    Yes, it's overhyped. But it really is topical.

  • ya..

    I finished it and immediately started over on it..

    The interweaving of the two time periods in which the book takes place, combined with the way some characters are developed and some not (Glory sure had a quick fade-out..) combined with the wide scope of technical/mathematical/scientific detail made it well worth a second read.

    There's been an amazing range of related topics appear: the "Mother Earth/Mother Board" hacker travelogue re: submarine cables at Wired; Cryptonomicon; tonight's show on Enigma and Bletchley Park; seems there was one other thread related to Enigma lately.. oh well, gone now..

    I'm still trying to find Kinakuta in my National Geographic World Atlas..

    I think it's really Banggi Island (or maybe not..)

    Cool stuff..


  • The subject says it all.
  • Indeed. Stephenson's stuff is good, but I certainly wouldn't place him above Jeff Noon. Enough plugs already.
  • I'm watching this and typing this at the same time; pre-emptive multitasking with no core dumps so far. I've watched many of these types of documentaries, but this one is probably the best one that I have seen. For those on the left-coast of the US, I would recommend that you go home and watch this one.

    While there is the expected over-dramaticization over some aspects of code breaking, this documentary is very even-handed. Woops, take that back. Now they are getting over-dramatic in their commentary.

    Hey guys and gals, what about the development and use of radar? What about the Manhattan Project?

  • Whoa, Thank god my TV is tuned into my local PBS station. The Charlie Rose show just started after Nova, and he is interviewing David Boiles. Unless you have been on Mars for the last year, you would know that Boiles was one of the DoJ lawyers in the MS case. And he was the main ball-buster.

    Check this out folks

  • They were probably counting on protection from the digital millenium copyright act. ;-)
  • Subject says it all.
  • Best piece I've seen in a while.
    ------------------------------------------ ----------------------
    Everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey...

  • I swear, I saw something sticking out of the water! It was huge! It must have been...the BREAST of LOCH NESS!!

  • Clearly these "codebreakers" are nothing more than pirates violating the poor Nazis' Intellectual Property rights. These delinquents' efforts at defeating the Third Reich's copy protection schemes are illegal, and they are clearly liable for the losses incurred during the war, and for subsequent declines in the sales of Mein Kampf and Eva Braun's Greatest Hits.

    Where is the RIAA when we really need them?

  • Nah, that's just a fairly standard German keyboard layout, I think. They use QWERTZ rather than QWERTY.

  • Agreed! Cool documentary! It is still showing too. :)
  • Makes sense, actuallz, since Y isn't used much in German (in fact, if I remember correctly, it's only used for foreign words).

  • One rather dismaying point: The Polish mathematicians who did the majority of the early work were kept away from Bletchley for "security reasons" and were not able to contribute to the ongoing efforts.
    Amen, and yes.

    This has always been a sore point with me (The Poles crypto successes being ignored by history in general) becaus I am Polish and we all know what nationality gets the largest brunt of stupid jokes thrown at them.

    From what I read the Polish trio (Rajewski, Zygalski, and the other guy whose name I was reminded of by PBS tonight but once again can not seem to remember) fled to occupied France to continue their work decrypting Enigma, after Germany blitzed Poland. They remained in France until things got too hot there for them, and then went to England where, yes, they were not allowed to actually work at Bletchley, and were reduced to breaking low-level German diplomatic codes.

    The gentleman whose name I keep forgetting (it was something like Rosicki) died before the war ended when he was fleeing Poland. I think his boat was torpedoed and sank. I don't remember what happened to Zygalski, but Rajewski was rewarded by the Polish gov't with some monetary compensation for his work, and he did survive long enough (into the 1970's, when Enigma was finally declassified) to receive some small acclaim for his accomplishments. He was interviewed by (if I recall correctly) the TV show 60-Minutes, and a Polish film maker did a film about him and his Polish colleagues.

    I must say that I think the PBS special did give the Poles more acclaim than history generally gives them, and was pretty well made with the exception of a few pet peeves.

    I might get flamed for this, but according to my research on Enigma (and I read quote a bit in a quest to actually build one) Alan Turing's role in cracking Enigma was much over-hyped, and had less to do with the history of Bletchley Park than history leads us to believe.

    My other pet peave (and this popped up frequently in the PBS special tonight) is that CODES and CIPHERS are 2 different things. Enigma was a cipher, not a code, and they kept saying "enigma encoded things", which is technically false. For example, Morse Code isn't a code at all, it's a cipher. (this is also a pet peeve of Peter Calvocoressi, a former Bletchley worker who was coincidentally interviewed on the Nova special, and who has written several good beginners books on codes and ciphers)

    The difference being ciphers replace a single letter with a single letter. Codes generally replace entire words with groups of letters and numbers, or other words, and actually require a CODE-TO-PLAINTEXT book to decode a message, and a PLAINTEXT-TO-CODE book to encode a message. A cipher only requires a simple key.

  • There's an Enigma machine along with lots of related items at the National Cryptographic Museum [] in Columbia, MD. A lot of interesting things, including an old Cray with a whopping 32 megs of RAM!

    I thought the most interesting thing was the newspaper clippings describing the museum's opening. Apparently, the NSA opened it without telling anyone -- and denied knowledge of any such museum for months afterwards.

  • Just saw the show; well done, albeit a bit thin on some of the technical details /. readers would want to see.

    At any rate, one of the major themes would have to be the role of human error in tipping off the decoders.

    Wouldn't the same be true for the supercodes in use today?

    It's October 6th. Where's W2K? Over the horizon again, eh?
  • I was wondering the same thing. Successes on the other side not being the kind of thing the winning side is inclined to trumpet, I wonder what went on that has been revealed, and also what went on that we will never know.

    It's October 6th. Where's W2K? Over the horizon again, eh?
  • Cryptonomicon was a great read but I agree with this post entirely. More so because none of that stuff in Cryptonomicon is new, it's clearly based on lots of time reading the cypherpunks mailing list back in the early 90's. Don't get me wrong, I loved the fact that it took from those ideas... but Stephenson didn't invent them.

    -Blake (who kept waiting for references to L. Detweiller and Assassination Politics to appear in the novel)

  • What happened in the last 30 minutes of the show? I tried to set my VCR up, but the picture was bad. :( Bah!

    Yeah, someone need to encode this and post on net. =).

    Thank you in advance for replies.
  • The Germans were able to read the codes used for communication between naval headquarters and convoys quite easily. This was because they started with a standard introductory text which provided a useful crib. Other codes were broken, but all Ultra intelligence was sent to the field using well-managed one-time pads.
  • well, see, you didn't read cryptonomicon or the review, because this is very relevant for people reeling from the book. half of the book was historical fiction, taking place around Blechley Park and projects ULTRA and MEGA and the Engima cracking.

    So for people without a whole lot of historical cryptographic background, anything that discusses this history is seen as relating to the book.
  • The text is up on the web of a lecture [] by Tony Sale on the workings of the German's Lorenz code and the Colossus machine, which might be of interest.
  • Actually, Turing was excluded because of his homosexuality. It was tolerated in an academic env., but not in a military. He wasn't allowed to work on the top-secret postwar research into computing devices- something which arguably set the emerging science back years.

    One day, he had cause to report a burglary to the police, and told them that his partner was male, by the by, and they charged him with indecency-related offences.

    This tragic and brilliant figure eventually took his own life, years before the world was allowed to know how many lives, both allied and german/japanese/italian etc he saved by hastening the end of the second world war.

    Of course, his idealised computing devices (partly an attempt on the fortress of Goedel's theorem) helped define a lot of the grounds of Formal Systems, and computation theory. Although the concept of the Universal Turing Machine was more or less an abstraction of Babbage's unbuilt second Difference Engine, he was the father of the modern computer (iterative models being much more practical for most purposes than Church's functional approach).

    So his brilliance in breaking the more secure version of enigma (the first one was broken by a brilliant Polish crypanalyst, exploiting repeated day keys, and turing took a lot of inspiration from his approach) wasn't his only huge contribution. It's what most people know him for, but ultimately, hundreds of years hence, his achievements in the field of computation should be seen as more important.

    I still think it's a tragedy that we lost such a brilliant mind to homophobia, though.

    Just my two pennorth... for my crappy amatuerish noises... :)

  • The subject matter is very pertinent, but did anyone at /. HQ think for a second that the heading and the general gist of the story is of /no relevance whatsoever/ to anyone living outside of the US of A? Jesus, you can be so inconsiderate sometimes. This is a global medium, remember?

    Bah humbug!

    Barry de la Rosa,
    Features Editor, Network News (UK)
    Work: barry_delarosa[at],
    tel. +44 (0)171 316 9364

  • I can't remember the precise details (sorry...) as I did this quite some time ago, but...

    Fairly near the beginning of the war, we got the Polish codebreaking team to come across to the UK. They'd managed to work out a device which had a number of enigma machines - 4 or 5, I think - operating linked with some complicated extra doohickys, and _that_ gave them limited decryption facilities. I don't know how good it was, but that was the original Polish device.

  • I have just been reading Anthony Cave Brown's history of intelligence and deception in the Second World War, "Bodyguard of Lies" (1975), and it certainly was not just the Allies making extensive use of signal intelligence.

    The German navy had cracked certain Admiralty ciphers in early 1940 and again in 1943, which were of considerable importance in the naval actions off Norway, and then in the battle of the convoys. Luftwaffe cryptanalysis also penetrated some of Bomber Command's ciphers. Even some of the private messages between Churchill and Roosevelt were intercepted, in 1940 when the American "Gray code" cipher was betrayed by a State department clerk in London, and at intervals between 1941 and 1943 when parts of telephone messages could be read due to deficiencies in the AT&T "A-3" scrambler.

    The Germans were also quick to take advantage of poor wireless security in the field. As well as revealing the theft of the "Black code" cipher, used by American military attaches throughout the world, which (as other posters have said) was giving the Germans detailed reports on the British morale, dispositions and plans throughout the Middle East, the Australian attack on Rommel's wireless intelligence unit at Tel-el-Eisa in July 1942 showed just how much the Germans had been able to learn from British radio traffic. Use of radiotelephones, call signs, cryptographic procedures, voice codes, wireless silences for units on the move -- all had been found wanting, and were shown to need deep reform.

    However, the comprehensive records also underlined how effective wireless signals could be for deception, and German analysis of fake radio traffic later led to many misdirections. In particular, false signals traffic was extensively used in the deception to persuade Hitler that an even larger invasion army under Patton was preparing to land at Calais. This ultimately prevented German deployment of their main Panzer divisions for several weeks even after the actual invasion in Normandy.

    Even so, signal intelligence did give them a strong clue as to the truth:

    "In late April [1944], ... after an intensive study of the wireless traffic of both British and American divisions, Funkabwehr analysts realised that when they heard the distinctive traffic indicating that an air liaison official had been assigned to a division to provide a link between ground and air forces, it could be assumed, first, that it was an assault division and, second, that it was preparing for offensive operations. In a relatively short period of time, the Funkabwehr heard all the divisions in southern and southwestern England broadcasting air liaison traffic, and they deduced, with considerable accuracy, that the invasion was imminent, and that the axis of the attack would be in the direction of Plymouth/Portsmouth and LeHavre/Cherbourg." (p.550)

    In the event there was no weakening of the garrisons in the Pas-de-Calais; but the Germans began to double the anti-tank and anti-aircraft defences in Normandy, and two further divisions were ordered in.

    Cave Brown summarises:

    "The German wireless intelligence and cryptoanalytical service -- the Funkabwehr -- had been responsible for a remarkable series of triumphs throughout the war. It would claim total penetration of French codes and ciphers, including machine ciphers; and it had consistently broken into every Russian cryptosystem from the highest commands down to battalions. As for the United States, a high officer of the Funkabwehr would later claim that German wireless intelligence had had no difficulty in penetrating American radio communications because of exteremly poor security. The same was not true of the British; they had learnt their lesson in North Africa. The Funkabwehr official would state that British radio communications were the most effective and secure of all those with which the German wireless intelligence had to contend, adding that the higher-echelon cryptosystems of the British were never compromised during the Second World War. But while the Germans had not been able to penetrate the systems, they were quite successful in analysing the characteristic patterns of British wireless traffic -- particularly the traffic of the RAF signals service. The Funkabwehr official would state that the RAF was not aware that it was responsible for revealing many carefully guarded plans of the British army and thus for many losses and casulaties; and he would add that the only possible explanation was interservice jealousy, which led the RAF to overestimate the quality and security of its wireless communications and to refuse to let them be subject to the supervision of the army." (p.549)

  • Until the close of last night's Nove documentary, I had no idea that Turing had killed himself. I'd always known him as a great figure referred to in other text. The fact that he was denies security clearance and ostracized for being gay is northing other than tragic. It's another example of how the intelligence community can be cautious to a fault. Interactions between Oppenheimer and the OSS are another good example of the paranoid mentality that the spooks tend to adopt. Can anybody recommend a good turing biography?
  • It was in Britain that the true key to cracking the Enigma developed. Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician was invited to take over control of the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) located at Bletchley Park. Here in Bletchley, Turing developed Colossus - arguably the world's first electronic computer. The details of Colossus are still foggy, partly because of its partial classified status, but mainly because the secret of Colossus died with Turing. What is known, however is that Turing was able to set up the Colossus machine to crack the German Enigma codes within minutes of receiving them.

    Colossus was not used for Enigma it was instead used for a teletype based cyper. (Which Station-X codenamed "fish".) Also credit for the development of Colossus must surely go to Tommy Flowers, the telephone engineer who built it.
  • According to the PBS show, Turing did not make or design Colossus. A person working in the post office (Flowers?) who was somehow related to the project came up with it. It was unique, because instead of relying on entirely mechanical devices, it used 1500 vacuum tubes (compared to the 150 rotator/barrel things of the "Bomb"), and was supposedly the first general programmable computer....although I've heard before the way the Germans had Z1 and Z3 machines which were the true first programmable computers.

    According to PBS, Turing developed the "Bomb" to decipher the German Sharp (right?) codes using "cribs". When the Germans developed a new encryption technique (using modulo 2 arithmetic to mask a message with another random message), the allies needed something much different from the special-purpose "Bomb". This Flowers guy came up with the idea to use vacuum tubes, and designed and made the whole thing himself, while people didn't really believe him that it would work.

    Also, the PBS special didn't talk much about the US or Japanese. For some reason I'm thinking the "Red" code was used by Italy...I may not be remembering correctly.

    Anyway, it is interesting to note that most of the allies' success in decryption was simply due to German user-error and stupidity. E.g., not resetting the code wheels upon the commencement of a new message, or setting them to something obvious or stupid like your name, or "BER-LIN" or "MAD-RID", using double-initialization which stood out in the encrypted codes, using the same phrase in the same place of every message ("Heil Hitler"). I think the Axis could actually have gotten away with it if their operators just used some common sense. Oh, plus, they should've thrown their code books overboard when that one sub was captured...duh.

    It was sad to learn that Alan Turing ended up committing suicide because of being gay.
  • Yeah, plus tomorrow they have another NOVA special at the same time on the origins of the universe, string stuff.
  • Why is it that history always credits Alan Turing with cracking Enigma, when in fact the Poles were reading Enigma encrypts prior to 1940? As I remember it Turing didn't become a player at Bletchley Park until about 1943, LONG after all of the theoretical work on the Enigma cipher had passed.

    Turing appears to have become a "culture hero" being credited with the work of many other people.
  • ULTRA was a combination of US and British technological superiority over Germany and Japan.
    Ummm, I think you're way off here. Sentence should read "British and US", IMHO.
    Originally, most nations believed the US had developed some sort of "advanced RADAR"
    Actually, the development of RADAR was never attributed to any one individual. The UK was the first to use it effectively, however, see here [] for more details.

    The whole tone of your essay seemed to overplay the US's part in this. I love the way everybody (including our supposed partners in the EU) seems to have forgotten that the UK is still paying the US back for equipment loans during WWII.

    Tomorrow will be 11/11/1999. Wear your poppy [] with pride. Without the selfless acts of our forebears, there'd sure as hell be no Linux, and you'd probably all be running MikroWeiche Windows.
  • "I wonder why the Germans transmitted the same messages as both plain and encrypted text. I wonder why the Germans transmitted the same messages as both plain and encrypted text."

    I don't think they ever did this. In fact, on a purely technical and procedural basis, the German protocol was ver, VERY safe. Except the operators DIDN'T follow protocol because they were lazy or thought the very machine itself guaranteed anything they did was unbreakable. Bletchley Park got their foot in the door because operators did stupid things like send the same phrase in every message, or, in the initialization procedure, send the key twice which stood out like a sore thumb, not resetting the wheels in the morning, or setting the double-keys to something stupid like "BER-LIN", or "MAD-RID"...this was alll human error totally removed from the technical aspect. Doing this would be stupid in any encryption scheme.

    Sort of makes you wonder what would have happened if they scheme was never broken. I also almost feel sorry for some of those German generals and commanders, simply not understanding why every single move led them to disaster, and that everything bad happened at exactly the worst times. Rommel, for instance, thought to his death that there was a leak in the highest command of the Italian military which was informing the English. Poor guy...
  • Yes, it was funny when the British from Bletchley talked to them, and the first thing they asked was, what was the plugboard arrangement, and the Polish said: "A, B, C, D, E, F, G..." and the British hit themselves on the forehead. That was another stupid move on the Germans' part.

    But according to PBS, the Germans changed something, and from then on the Polish guys were not able to crack anything. This apparently happened pretty early...probably a little before or after the actual attack on poland.
  • I might get flamed for this, but according to my research on Enigma (and I read quote a bit in a quest to actually build one) Alan Turing's role in cracking Enigma was much over-hyped, and had less to do with the history of Bletchley Park than history leads us to believe.

    I suspect that Turing's role may well have been over hyped in quite a few ways connected with Station-X. With the actions of linguists, engineers and cryptographers being downplayed and even falsely credited to Turing.

    My other pet peave (and this popped up frequently in the PBS special tonight) is that CODES and CIPHERS are 2 different things.

    A very common misunderstanding.

    Enigma was a cipher, not a code, and they kept saying "enigma encoded things", which is technically false. For example, Morse Code isn't a code at all, it's a cipher. (this is also a pet peeve of Peter Calvocoressi, a former Bletchley worker who was coincidentally interviewed on the Nova special, and who has written several good beginners books on codes and ciphers)

    In such documentries you tend to get those narrating and interviewing to refer to "codes" whilst the (old) people they interview refer to "cyphers".

    The difference being ciphers replace a single letter with a single letter.

    Or groups of letters. Cyphers are comparativly easy to mechanise.

    Codes generally replace entire words with groups of letters and numbers

    Or to translate into a language which will not be understood by evesdroppers. Which is exactly what the Americans did in the Pacific, using Navajo speakers to send communications.
  • "Yes, I laugh at the power of a VIC-20 (and the other PCs of the time), but for both reasons. I laugh at their punyness compared to now, and their might compared to the 40's."

    Actually, I'm in awe of machines like that. Back then, nothing had been done on the topic. There was no "computing". These machines were basically the original brainchilds from individual people's imaginations. Nowadays everything has already been make a faster chip you just decrease circuit width...etc. Sure people still design new circuits, but they have a wealth of fundamental stuff at their disposal. Back then this was absolutely amazing...people didn't even know if it was /possible/. It must've been really cool to see this big box returning /correct/ answers to you!
  • I assume you haven't read Cryptonomicon. A lot of it features Enigma, Dr. Turing, Station X, and the world's first computing devices that aided codebreakers. Sound familiar?


  • During WWII, a group of mathematicians and other codebrakers was working 'secretly' somewhere in England to break ENIGMA. The 'official' history is that the group did break the code of ENIGMA. Nothing is more false. A copy of an ENIGMA machine was taken from a German submarine and brought back to England where it has been reverse-engineered! I believe this version of the story to be true. What do you think?
  • There's an Enigma machine along with lots of related items at the National Cryptographic Museum in Columbia, MD.

    Speaking of which, there's some kind of sculpture there with an encrypted message in it. Does anyone know if this message has been decrypted?
  • I'd love to know what _really_ happened with the Philadelphia Experiment... Was Einstein's Unified Field Theory full of it, or did the great man foresee an application that he could not live with?
  • "It seems to me that the British missed a chance to be the dominate power in the world of computing. "

    Actually, I think we were too busy rebuilding our cities and grieving for our dead to be too worried about what was then an abstract concept.
    Rationing (of food, petrol, heating oil etc) in the UK continued way after the end of WWII; the economy was shot to bits (all the skilled workers were either still being demobilised or were dead), there was a whole load of social issues to deal with (repatriation of evacuees to their parents, broken homes because fathers were buried on French soil, although many positive things such as increased emancipation of women).
    And none of this economic & social turmoil was helped by the USA demanding payment for equipment loans, based solely on the fact that Churchill's Conservatives lost to (Chamberlain's? Might be wrong - correct me pls!) the Labour party, whose socialist policies offended the sensibilities of the president even before any were enacted.

    On another note, which is timely and relevant - after WW II, Germany (a monopoly) was divided into East and West by what was effectively the Department of World Justice.
    West Germany went on to become a great economic power in Europe. And not more than 10 years ago they merged back again! US DoJ, read your history!
  • I guess you didn't watch the show.

    The machine is the encryption/decryption algorithm. That was known. All good cryptography algorithms are well known. Relying on the secrecy of the algorithm is poor cryptographic practice.

    What was not known was the daily machine settings that are equivalent to the crypotgraphic key. The mathematicians used various techniques to discover the daily settings. Once the day's settings had been found, that entire day's set of dispatches could be read. But there was a new problem to solve at midnight every day.

    Furthermore, the Germans altered the machine by adding rotors and by building versions of the machine that had more than the usual number of rotors. The later Lorentz cipher was only partially based on Enigma. It too was broken.

    It was a remarkable feat of mathematics and engineering.
  • I was really impressed at the attempts to build the first memory storage devices.

    Mercury delay tubes where an audio pulse representing a series of 0s and 1s was sent through the machine and captured at the other end so that it could be cycled around to the beginning and retransmitted reminds me of RAM refresh circuits.

    The use of CRTs where the decay time of the phosphors was used to store bits for brief periods of time until they were reread and fed back into the tube. What ingenuity!
  • Yes, it was funny when the British from Bletchley talked to them, and the first thing they asked was, what was the plugboard arrangement, and the Polish said: "A, B, C, D, E, F, G..." and the British hit themselves on the forehead. That was another stupid move on the Germans' part.

    One of many. But the real truth is that Enigma would have been more enigmatic had the germans exercised better care in key management.

    The Allies found Enigma sound enough to have actually used it a little themselves when sending messages to the French resistance.

  • Nah, that's just a fairly standard German keyboard layout, I think. They use QWERTZ rather than QWERTY.

    Yes, and if I recall correctly. The Polish replica Enigma machines simply went A-Z left to right.

    They also improved the plugboard by replacing those banana plugs with 1/4 inch phono plugs, thus requiring only one jack instead of 2 for every plugboard letter.

  • That second URL's Trace Diagram feature is great. Its "trace diagram" feature finally made it clear to me how Enigma-style rotor-plus-reflector cyphers work. Thank you for posting it.

    I saw the special last night, and found it very well put together for the mathematically lightweight.

    As with today, most of the big breaks in cryptography came from sloppily handled transmissions and misuse of protocols. For example:

    • The default plugboard layout on Enigma maps a=a, b=b, etc. This key insight greatly simplified the initial work the Poles did in describing the three-rotor machine.
    • In the first year or so of the war, the three-letter "session key"--as it were--was sent twice in a row at the start of each session, greatly simplifying cracking.
    • Stock phrases such as a big, happy "Heil Hitler" at the beginning or end of a message allowed known-plaintext attacks.
    • Operators who were in a big hurry would sometimes skip the critical setup step of giving the rotors a quick spin before the session. This meant that the session-key would be the same as the daily key, dramatically reducing the number of possible encypherments.
    • Operators would use personal stock-phrases for their session keys; for example, if the first session used the key "B-E-R", the second would use "L-I-N". Recognizing operators was fairly easy--the style or "fist" of one's Morse code transmissions is often as distinctive as one's handwriting.
    • The Lorentz machine--a fourteen rotor (I think) modulo-arithmetic cypher--was reverse-engineered when a sender made a critical mistake: After sending a four-thousand character message, the receiver said, "I'm sorry, would you resend that?" So, using the same initial settings, he resent the message, but this time, he impatiently started using abbreviations, allowing Bletchley Park to do a differential-plaintext attack to see the character stream generated by the rotors, and from there determine how they worked.

    Once Lorentz was broken, though, it still took a month to decypher a single message, by which time it was essentially useless. Once Flowers's Colossus machines went on-line, a message could be broken in minutes or hours.

    On the whole, it was a fascinating special, bringing together numerous sources ranging from mathematicians to code-clerks to modern-day cryptanalysts to tell the story of how Allied Intelligence greatly reduced the length and cost of World War II in Europe.


  • yeah, I agree with ya there. I'm half-way through the Code Book right now. I found the description of Enigma and it's breaking to be more detailed in the Code Book than in last night's Nova.
  • The Allied forces were indeed ingenious in many ways when it came to the WWII intel struggles but I think the Germans were equally adept. The special and some of the comments touched on the deciding factor: the ineptness of the enigma operators. The one reason given that struck me as extremely interesting was that there was an overall "mythical" belief that the Germans themselves believed and propagated that they were so advanced that the enigma couldn't be broken even if they did stupid things. It was a war! Paranoia I think may have been just a bit appropriate in this case. Not clinging to standard modes of thinking may have helped too. The guy that used the beginning of his name and his girlfriends name as the three character set reminds me of so many people that I just had to chuckle.

    But again the irony is if it weren't for their "mental laziness" then enigma may actually have not been broken. Every time the Germans shifted protocols the Allies of Bletchley Park were left in the "dark," until another of human natuers follies crept back into the forefront of someone's conciousness.

    If the Germans had realized their failings, they definitely would have turned things around.

    Fail at anything lately?

  • Actually, November was the ninth month -- many centuries ago when the year started in March . . .
  • Douglas Hofstader's "Metamagical Themas" has a good essay on Turing and England's ugly treatment of one of it's war heros. If I remember Scientific American (the original publisher of the essays) was none too pleased with this and a few other of Hofstader's columns due to what the editors felt was a political slant in them...
  • Actually this is not a typo, just a listing of another PBS cooking show . . . you know, Breast of Loch Ness Monster in a wine and garlic sauce . . .
  • The documentary mentions this only in passing -- the allies used an in-line rotor encryption device for teletype messages (similar to the German Lorentz)called Type X (I have also seen it called typex or TYPEX) that the Germans did not have much luck with. For field use we had an ingenious all mechanical rotor machine that even printed out the cyper or plain text. And both sides used (and in fact still use) both paper and mechanical versions of the one-time pad.
  • The fact that he was denies security clearance and ostracized for being gay is northing other than tragic.

    It gets worse than that. Not only was Turing persecuted for being gay, he was offered (some would say forced to undergo) "treatment" for his "perversion". In the form of some very powerful medications. It's a pretty good bet that it was the drugs, not just the ostracism (that had been going on for a long time and while it was no doubt unpleasant, it wasn't enough to make the guy kill himself) that led to Turing's suicide.

    Interactions between Oppenheimer and the OSS are another good example of the paranoid mentality that the spooks tend to adopt.

    Not that it excuses in any way the abominable treatment of Dr. Turing, but maintaining a "paranoid mentality" is how spooks stay alive and do their jobs. They have to be paranoid. They don't have to be bigots. Turing's homosexuality was no more of a security risk (realistically, it was far less of risk) than the "eccentricity" that made him such a genius with codes and codebreaking machines.
  • Were these classified? Damm straight they were, and some apparently still are. For many years, the Enigma machine(s) that we captured were most closely held (probably stored right next to the Lost Ark ) and both the British and American governments issued carefully crafted alternative explanations for the effect that ULTRA and MAGIC (the American breaking of high level Japanese rotor cyphers based on earlier versions of Enigma) had on the war. These were, and their current equivalents are, some of the "blacker" secrets around, today rating up with "special access" overhead imagery and SIOP-ESI war plans.
  • As I was watching the special, the qestion that came to mind was "how did the Allies communicate?"

    According to the documentary, the Axis wasn't as concerned with intel. since they were winning (though they DID compromise a US diplomatic code via old fashion espionage). Nevertheless, the Allies knew what they were doing to crack the Axis codes - did it affect the Allies' procedures?

  • I think so. Look at ssh, for example. Everyone thinks that because it uses strong encryption, it is hard to break. But consider that several protocols used via ssh have predictable text, these reduce the protection that ssh provides. If you're using a 1024 bit key, but the first 10 characters of your session are known (because your prompt is 10 characters long and unvarying or because you see an /etc/issue message), you have just given away 80 bits of key.

    These are exactly the types of weaknesses that Bletchley took advantage of.
  • Relevant paper:

    M. Rejewski
    "How Polish mathematicians deciphered the Enigma" (with discussion)
    Ann. Hist. Comput. 3, 213-234 (1981)

    A different translation of this paper appears as an appendix to the book by Kozaczuk (1984) recommended by the original poster.

    Rejewski was the brilliant Polish mathematician who achieved the original theoretical success against the commercial version of Enigma in 1932-33. The Poles were later able to achieve substantial success against the military variant, aided by intelligence material supplied by Gustave Bertrand of the French Secret Service. According to Rejewski this material was "the decisive factor in breaking the machine's secrets". The work was the foundation for many of the attacks used against Enigma at Bletchley Park.

    Why is it that history always credits Alan Turing with cracking Enigma, when in fact the Poles were reading Enigma encrypts prior to 1940? As I remember it Turing didn't become a player at Bletchley Park until about 1943, LONG after all of the theoretical work on the Enigma cipher had passed.

    This is not correct:

    From September 1938 Turing had given part-time assistance to the British cryptanalytic organisation, the Government Code and Cypher School. Their work was transformed by the transfer of information from Polish mathematical cryptanalysts in July 1939. From 4 September 1939, Turing worked full-time at the GC&CS war-time headquarters, Bletchley Park.

    During 1939-40 Turing was foremost in developing logical, statistical and mechanical methods which allowed rapid decryption of some Enigma cipher traffic in 1940. The vital naval ciphers resisted decryption, mainly through an extra complexity (a bigram substitution) in the key-system. Turing took charge of a section (Hut Eight) devoted to this problem.

    Source: ng/papers/profsbook.html []

    In this time he made a number of important contributions, including

    • working out the new indicator system being used by the German navy to transmit the machine settings;
    • 'simultaneous scanning', the simultaneous tracing of all of the possible consequences of a hypothesis about the plugboard settings and testing for contradiction. This accelerated the rate at which the Bombes could test codes by a factor of 26
    • the 'Banburismus' statistical method for guessing the rotor order, which effectively used mutual information as a scoring system seven years before Shannon (and inspired both I.J. Good and S. Kullback in their later work on information theory).

    Bletchley was never a one man project; but Turing's achievments were far from insignificant.

  • I wonder... did any side have the intellectual courage to put a team of codebreakers to work on their own communications, as a sort of "Red Team", to detect any possible weak links?

    Do modern military/diplomatic/intelligence organizations do this?

    It's October 6th. Where's W2K? Over the horizon again, eh?

"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan