Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: Bletchley Park

The Cyrillic Projector: Forums by the People for the People

In addition to the intriguing Kryptos sculpture, Sanborn has produced numerous other sculptures that have fans and amateur cryptanalysts from around the world working together. Elonka has created an entire webpage dedicated to a transcript and discussion of the Cyrillic Projector.  With the help of a series of pictures taken by Randall Bollig, she was able to type up a transcript of the codes on the projector in order for people to have easier access to the information. This has allowed many people to put their heads together so that they can hopefully solve the previously intact cipher.

Much like the combined powers of the great minds in Room 40 and Bletchley park, Elonka’s online forum allows cryptanalysts from across the globe to work together to break through these ciphers. Obviously these people are working to crack the codes because they enjoy doing so—and not because there are lives and national intelligence at stake. If this type of forum existed during the wars, would it have benefited or hindered attempts to encode and decode messages? It would certainly increase the size of think tanks by enabling them to communicate without being physically present, but the easy access to information on the internet would have made it much easier for other powers to catch on to what exactly cryptanalysts were doing. If the technology existed back then, would forums like Elonka’s have been useful in cryptanalyst efforts?

Brawn over brains

 

It cannot be denied that the brilliant minds at Bletchley park were necessary to the success of the code breaking. However, all of their work would've been null if they didn't have the money and resources to build or run the machines they needed. For this reason, the "brute force" was one of the most important factors to Allied success.

The Polish were the first to figure out a way to crack the enigma cipher. They were able to build the machines they needed to use brute force to decipher the messages. Everything was going great for them until the Germans added more elements to the Enigma Machine, meaning the Polish would've needed more machines to continue their processes. They simply didn't have the resources to make that happen. That's when they shared their findings with larger Allied forces. Bletchley Park was able to create all the machines necessary to continue cracking the codes, and had the manpower to run the machines as well.

Later on in Bletchley Park the intelligence was key to continuing to crack the codes, once the Germans fixed some of their "human error" mistakes, like repeating the day code. At this point, pure brute force was not enough to read the messages. Prior to this, though, brute force was the key element to deciphering the German messages.

There's No "I" in "Team"

Photo credit: "Share" by AJ Cann via Flickr CC

Photo credit: "Share" by AJ Cann via Flickr CC

A key factor to Bletchley Park's success was the collaborative efforts that were used in order to crack Enigma time and time again. After reading Singh's chapter in The Code Book that discussed Bletchley Park, one might get the idea that Alan Turing was the key to the Allied success. Alan Turing was, no doubt, a key player in the cryptanalysis that led to the Allied success. However, there were thousands of other men and women that aided in the breaking of Enigma and deciphering German messages.

One image that stands out to me that Singh wrote of were the huts in Bletchley Park. Singh illustrates these huts as hubs of collaboration between some of the brightest minds in their given field. If a cryptanalyst was working on a cipher or encrypted message and was stumped, he would pass it to another cryptanalyst. A single message could make its way around the hut numerous times, with each cryptanalyst getting one step closer to the solution until it was solved.

Within each hut there was a clear sense of teamwork, but from hut to hut there was a similar sense as well. Each hut had a specific purpose, so once one hut had done its job with a message, it would be handed over to the next hut for the next step. This ensured that each member of Bletchley Park was doing what he or she thrived at, leading to maximized efficiency as well as an overwhelming necessity and use of communication and teamwork.

Variation of Disciplines

Cryptography is an ever evolving field, and this held especially true around the time of World War II. Up until this point, most cryptanalysis had been performed by linguists and people trained in language. However, as cryptography evolved and became increasingly mathematical and technological, the personnel involved in cryptanalysis needed to evolve as well. One of the primary reasons the Allies had success over the German cryptographers was the Allies use of cryptanalysists from across many disciplines.

As discussed in class, there are many factors which go into solving a code. To break the German code required some each of creativity, logic and luck. One of the best ways to solve an abstract problem, such as breaking an enciphered message, is to think about it from many different angles and have different people each with their own different way of thinking attempting to solve the problem. As Singh noted, there were a great variety of cryptanalysists working on the German codes from mathematicians and linguists to artists and chess players. Having such varied ways of thinking ensured that if one person couldn't come up with an idea, someone else down the line would most likely be able to. Also, British cryptanalysits were specialized into various "huts" on the lawn of Bletchley park. Each of these huts had a specific directive, from working on the German Naval enigma to intelligence gathering and translation. With many different types of thinkers working on them simultaneously, each of the various tasks were able to be completed with the utmost efficiency, saving lives and ultimately helping the Allies gain a pivotal upper hand in the war.

"Hut 6, Army/Airforce Enigma codebreaking" Photo by Matt Crypto-Licensed under Public Domain by Wikimedia Commons

"Hut 6, Army/Airforce Enigma codebreaking" Photo by Matt Crypto-Licensed under Public Domain by Wikimedia Commons

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