Enigma Code

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Cracking The Enigma Code

For several years at the beginning of the war the Allies couldn’t find a flaw in the Enigma code. They had captured several Enigma machines, as well as obtained the occasional code sheet – but they needed to crack the cipher. Luckily, a few poor choices on the part of the Nazi’s allowed the cryptographers at Bletchley park to discover a weakness in the Enigma code.

In order to ensure a very strong encryption, the Nazi’s added a plug board to their military Enigma machines – an old telephone style mapping between letter pairs, essentially making two letters swap before being sent into the rotors for encryption. This added a crazy amount of mathematical redundancy to the Enigma (catapulting the possible initial configurations well into the trillions) however it also allowed for an important weakness to be discovered.

Because of the way Enigma was designed, it was impossible for a character to be encoded (go through the encryption process) into itself – a certain character always had to result in a certain different other character.

Now, this flaw allowed – through a lot of trial and error – the deduction of some some plug positions – and from those plug positions you could extrapolate the positions of others, and assuming you didn’t find any problems (such as two plugs pointing to the same letter, in which case you’d try another guess) you could effectively brute-force the plug positions, without actually having to try all of the possible options. However, the Allies needed to decrypt the German’s messages every day, so they had to build a device to automate this process for them.

Enter the Bombe. Designed by Alan Turing, the Bombe took the form of emulating several hundred Enigma rotors, as well as functioning as a logical electrical circuit to automate the deductions needed to rule out flawed possible attempts. By 1941, the British had built 12 operational Bombe’s, but by 1944 had over 150 of them, cracking a variety of German messages. The Nazi’s were so kind enough to broadcast a weather report every morning encrypted by the Enigma code – a broadcast that was done in the same format daily, which the British could then crack and reveal the Enigma settings used for that day.

Eventually the German’s switched to a variety of different Enigma machines, such a 4 or 5 rotor machines as well as double-encrypting messages, however the British code breakers often caught up with them fairly quickly. The British themselves took the concept of the Enigma cipher and improved upon it – such as fixing the issue of letters not able to be encrypted into themselves. The German’s had attempted to crack it, but thought it impossible as it was even more sophisticated than Enigma itself.

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Cracking the Uncrackable: How Did Alan Turing and His Team Crack The Enigma Code?

‘If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody is not thinking.’

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George S Patton, a former senior officer of the US Army, hit the bull’s-eye with his legendary quote about intelligence. The reality is that there are times when nothing works according to plan. Your actions beget catastrophe, you miraculously manage to thoroughly bungle every opportunity that comes your way, and all your plans seem to go south. At times when you are completely at the end of your wits, a tiny clue often appears, something so conspicuous that it can easily escape the attention of everyone. The key to success is identifying the clue that “changes everything” and use it to your advantage.

Bletchley Park, London (Image Credit: standardissuemagazine.com)

This is precisely what happened during World War II in a place called Bletchley Park in Great Britain, where a team of scientists, mathematicians and cryptographers were attempting to break the Enigma Code.

What is the Enigma Code?

The Enigma Code is a cipher generated by something called the Enigma Machine. The Enigma Machine played a crucial part in communication among the Nazi forces during World War II. It was used to encrypt highly classified messages, which were then transmitted over thousands of miles to the Nazi forces at the front using Morse code.

How Did the Enigma Machine Work?

Credit: Everett Historical/Shutterstock

In order to understand how to crack the Enigma Code, one must comprehensively understand how the Enigma machine worked. You can read about its important components and function by clicking here.

What’s So Special About the Enigma Code?

What made the Enigma code, or any code, for that matter, so special?

The quality of any code is measured in terms of the number of possibilities one has to go through to arrive at the correct answer (this is one quantifiable entity, which is why we’ll only consider this).

In the case of the Enigma Machine, you have to get a number of settings of the machine absolutely perfect, or else the code cannot be cracked. What made the Enigma Code seemingly ‘uncrackable’ was the fact that you would have to go through more than almost 15 million million million possibilities to arrive at the correctly deciphered code!

How Did Turing’s Team Crack the Enigma Code?

Now, for the question that we posed in the title of this article… How did they actually crack the Enigma Code, which was considered one of the most ironclad, impossible-to-crack codes in history?

A team of scientists, mathematicians and cryptographers are credited with cracking the Enigma code. Alan Turing was the head of this historic team. He, along with his colleague Gordon Welchman, made his own version of the Bombe Machine (the Bombe Machine was originally invented by the Poles, but it was unable to effectively decipher the codes as quickly as was required). The machine was better than the Polish version of the Bombe machine, but it also required a very, very long time to decipher any code, which was bad news for Britain and the other Allied nations. Turing had to come up with an idea that could allow the Bombe Machine to crack the code much faster than that.

The Bombe machine (Image Source: http://www.cryptomuseum.com)

One memorable day, Turing had an epiphany. He identified a weak spot in the Nazi encrypted messages – a chink in that ironclad armor! This flaw was something that could finally help to decipher every single encrypted Enigma message!

What Was the Flaw in the Enigma Code?

Let’s try to understand this important flaw with an example.

Suppose you wanted to encrypt a message that contained a total of 3 words. The first word of the message was, let’s say, ‘SCIENCE’. Now, the first letter that you would want to encrypt is ‘S’, so when you press the ‘S’ key on the keyboard of the Enigma Machine, an electric signal was generated that traveled through a lot of wires and rotors and ultimately lit up a different letter (say, ‘M’). So the ‘S’ in ‘SCIENCE’ would be encrypted as ‘M’.

Similarly, the other words would be encrypted as different letters than they actually were. On one end of the Enigma Machine, you typed ‘SCIENCE IS AWESOME’, but the encrypted output might have looked something like ‘MKSQER PO QAPEKRQ’, or something entirely different.

Did you notice anything about the above encryption?

Every letter was encrypted as a letter that was different than itself. Never once did it happen that a letter was encrypted as itself.

Quite simply, when you type ‘S’, it could be encrypted as any one letter of A,B,C….X,Y,Z. Any letter out of the 26 letters could be the, but not S. Therefore, an ‘S’ would never be encrypted as an ‘S’. Now, read the encryption of ‘SCIENCE IS AWESOME’ again and see if that holds true.

This was the single flaw in the Enigma code.

How Did this Flaw Help Crack the Enigma Code?

Now that you know that a letter can be encrypted as any letter other than itself, the total number of possible settings decreased exponentially.

To aid this process, all Turing needed was a word (or a group of words) that he was positive the Germans would use in each of their Enigma-encrypted messages. What was that word, or rather, that phrase?

‘Heil Hitler’

Germans put the phrase ‘Heil Hitler’ at the end of every encrypted message. This seemingly small mistake eventually contributed to their ultimate defeat.

This is one of the many examples that proves that mathematics is not just a meaningless collection of numbers (which is what math-haters believe!). It’s something far greater… something that can save countless human lives.

This historical event proves another vital thing; perseverance and belief in your ideas eventually leads to success, no matter how insurmountable the problem may initially appear.


About the Author :

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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Alan Turing: the man who cracked the Enigma code

As the World War Two codebreaker, who killed himself after receiving a criminal conviction for his homosexuality, is granted a Royal pardon we look back at his life

By Hayley Dixon and agencies

11:55PM GMT 23 Dec 2020

During the Second World War, Alan Turing worked at the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park – the forerunner of GCHQ – where he devised the techniques which cracked the German Enigma code.

He is widely seen as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence and is credited with helping to shorten the course of the war.

Turing was born in 1912 in a nursing home in Paddington, London, another biographer Andrew Hodges has said.

Science was “an extra-curricular passion”, which led him to become an undergraduate at King’s College, Cambridge – and it was here that homosexuality became a definitive part of his identity, Mr Hodge said.

The biographer said a “distinguished” degree in 1934 was followed by a Fellowship of King’s College in 1935 and a Smith’s Prize in 1936 for work on probability theory.

Turing spent two years at Princeton University enrolled as a graduate student, arriving in September 1936, Mr Hodges has written.

The writer said that although not one of the political intellectuals of the 1930s, Turing followed current events and was influenced in studying ciphers by the prospect of war with Germany.

Upon British declaration of war on September 3, Turing took up full-time work at the wartime cryptanalytic headquarters, Bletchley Park.

By 1942, he was well established there, and seen as “shabby, nail-bitten, tieless, sometimes halting in speech and awkward of manner”, according to Mr Hodges.

After the war Turing developed his strength in cross-country running with frequent long-distance training and top-rank competition in amateur athletics.

He would amaze his colleagues by running to scientific meetings, beating the travellers by public transport, and only an injury prevented his serious consideration for the British team in the 1948 Olympic Games, Mr Hodges said.

Although never secretive about his sexuality, he became more deliberately outspoken and exuberant on his return to Cambridge, the biographer wrote.

Turing was arrested and came to trial on March 31 1952, after the police learned of his sexual relationship with a young Manchester man.

Mr Hodges said he made no serious denial or defence, instead telling everyone that he saw no wrong with his actions.

Despite his achievements, in 1952 he was prosecuted for homosexuality, which was then illegal.

To avoid prison, Turing agreed to receive injections of oestrogen for a year, which was intended to reduce his libido in a process known as chemical castration.

He subsequently died of cyanide poisoning aged 41 – an inquest recorded a verdict of suicide, although his mother and others maintained his death was accidental.

In 2020, the verdict of suicide was challenged by a biographer of the computer pioneer.

Evidence gathered after the death of the scientist from cyanide poisoning in 1954 was “overlooked” and he could have died as a result of inhaling the poison he used in amateur experiments rather than deliberately ingesting it, Professor Jack Copeland claimed.

Prof Copeland, director of the Turing Archive for the History of Computing and author of a biography of the academic, spoke as events took place around the country to celebrate the centenary of the underappreciated scientific genius’s birth.

“From the records I have been able to obtain, it seems to me very obvious that the inquest was conducted in a very superficial way,” he said.

“The coroner didn’t really investigate the evidence at all, he just jumped to the conclusion that he committed suicide.

“He seems to have been very biased from the statements in newspapers at the time.”

The coroner in Turing’s death case ruled he committed suicide “while the balance of his mind was disturbed”, adding: “In a man of his type, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next.”

The codebreaker’s 100th birthday was celebrated in 2020 with the launch of the Alan Turing Memorial Award created by the Lesbian & Gay Foundation in partnership with Manchester City Council.

The award was part of the foundation’s Homo Heroes Awards, which recognise those who make a positive difference to LGBT communities and celebrate diversity.

Google’s home page “doodle” was an animated representation of an Enigma decoding machine, in honour of the computer scientist.

And he trended worldwide on Twitter, with Sarah Brown, wife of former prime minister Gordon Brown, writing: “Happy 100th Birthday Alan Turing.”

In 2009, Mr Brown issued an apology for the treatment of Turing after he was found guilty of gross indecency with another man in 1952.

Mr Brown said at the time: “The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely.”

As part of the 100th birthday celebrations, scientists and other Turing aficionados gathered in Manchester, Oxford and Cambridge, among other places, to celebrate his work as part of Alan Turing Year, a wider celebration and attempt to rehabilitate him into the mainstream.

Enigma key broken

On this day in 1941, crackerjack British cryptologists break the secret code used by the German army to direct ground-to-air operations on the Eastern front.

British and Polish experts had already broken many of the Enigma codes for the Western front. Enigma was the Germans’ most sophisticated coding machine, necessary to secretly transmitting information. The Enigma machine, invented in 1919 by Hugo Koch, a Dutchman, looked like a typewriter and was originally employed for business purposes. The Germany army adapted the machine for wartime use and considered its encoding system unbreakable. They were wrong. The Brits had broken their first Enigma code as early as the German invasion of Poland and had intercepted virtually every message sent through the occupation of Holland and France.

Now, with the German invasion of Russia, the Allies needed to be able to intercept coded messages transmitted on this second, Eastern, front. The first breakthrough occurred on July 9, regarding German ground-air operations, but various keys would continue to be broken by the Brits over the next year, each conveying information of higher secrecy and priority than the next. (For example, a series of decoded messages nicknamed “Weasel” proved extremely important in anticipating German anti-aircraft and antitank strategies against the Allies.) These decoded messages were regularly passed to the Soviet High Command regarding German troop movements and planned offensives, and back to London regarding the mass murder of Russian prisoners and Jewish concentration camp victims.

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