Cipher Machines





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The German Enigma Machine: The Secret Battlefield of WW2

(See slide #8 in "Slide Show" mode to see the electricity flow in the animated and anatomically correct Enigma wiring diagram!)

The Enigma machine was invented over 100 years ago, and it proved to be quite an ingenious invention! This was the first cipher device in history to use electricity to encode a message, which was a giant leap in cipher technology. The cryptographic strength of the Enigma gave the Germans the utmost confidence in the secrecy of their messages during World War II. While this confidence was justified, it later became their undoing because they refused to believe the evidence that the enemy was reading their messages!

The story of the Allies overcoming the odds and breaking the Enigma is a story of innovation, intrigue, and deception; which significantly shortened the war and ushered in the age of computers. The success of cracking the Enigma was kept secret for 29 years after the end of WW2, despite tens of thousands people working on the effort in the UK and US. This secrecy is especially incredible for us living in the age of the internet, WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden. Over 35,000 Enigma machines were manufactured, but only 350 are known to exist today.

In Search of the World's Oldest Surviving Cipher Devices

The search for the world's oldest surviving cipher devices has never been systematically pursued. Part of the reason is the secret nature of these devices means that few have survived and some of the surviving examples may be stored in museums or other collections and not recognized as cipher devices at all.

Prior to this undertaking, the oldest known cipher device was a Vigenere disk made by Nicholas Bion of France in hte late 1600 to early 1700s. This original research resulted in the identification of 6 earlier cipher devices, with the oldest device from King Henry II of France and dated to 1547-59, 150 years older than the previously recognized oldest cipher device!

M-94 Cylinder Cipher: A Story of Innovation, Intrigue, and Deception

This is the story of the invention of the cylinder cipher, including pictures of the only known prototype in existence (from my personal collection)! This US Army cipher device, used until WW2, was originally invented in 1795 by our third president, Thomas Jefferson.

One-Time Pad: The Only Unbreakable Cipher

The invention of the one-time pad was incorrectly attributed to the wrong inventor for almost 100 years, until the original inventor was discovered in 2011. This follows a long tradition in cryptology of giving credit to the wrong inventor. Although the one-time pad is famous for being unbreakable, three historic examples will be told of how this device was broken.

Hagelin Cipher Machines: The World’s Most Successful and Controversial

The story of the secret "Gemtlemen's Agreement" between Boris Hagelin and William Friedman of the NSA had huge consequences for the scores of countries who relied on the Hagelin pin and lug cipher devices. This secret NSA "backdoor" into the C-52 was in place for almost 40 years before being publicly revealed by Iran after they kidnapped the Hagelin salesman and collected a million dollar ransom.

Cryptology, the Secret Battlefield of World War I: Dawn of the Crypto Arms Race

World War 1 was the first war that saw the proliferation of the new invention of the radio used for battlefield strategy and communications by the generals and admirals. Unfortunately, the technology used for cryptography did not keep pace, so 500 year-old cipher methods were used. Every country had their military messages intercepted and read by their enemy! The last few years of the war saw a surge of new innovations that included the Enigma machine, the M-94 cylinder cipher, and the burst encoder. This was the dawn of the crypto arms race!

Crypto Wars: The Evolution of Military Cryptology

This is the story of the ingenuity and intrigue of 2000 years of military cipher technology, starting with Julius Caesar and continuing today with modern public key cryptography. All the major historical categories of cipher technology will be explored as the battle of wits between codemakers and codebreakers has continued to escalate.

Copyright © 2016 by Ralph Simpson - Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License