The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Allied Success and German Error

As we know from history, the Allies were successful in cracking the Axis’ encryption methods. A major part of this success, as Singh states, is German overconfidence. Another reason for their success was simply limited ability. The Enigma Machine, as impressive as it was, was restricted by possible plug board settings and scrambler combinations. The limitations of the machine combined with its extreme complexity and German laziness, led to repeated message keys, cillies, and stereotypical messages. As a result, the Allies were able to exploit cribs and this helped lead to the cracking of the Enigma. Allied success in with decryption, relied on German limitation. The Enigma was indeed limited, and this allowed the Allies the chance to break the code. German laziness also helped the Allies exploit the weaknesses in Enigma as they helped make it more predictable and pattern based.

Allied success did not only lie in German error. It also relied deeply on their own coding ability. The Allies had very strong encryption methods, such as the Typex, the SIGABA and the Navajo code talkers. Knowing that they had sound encryption methods allowed them to focus more on the decryption of Axis codes, rather than struggling to encrypt their own codes. Being able to focus their efforts on decryption played a major role on breaking the Enigma and other Axis coding methods. The difference between the Axis and the Allied forces was simply that the Allies had stronger encryption methods. In the end, Allied success was based off of the fact that the Allies won the coding war.


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1 Comment

  1. Jerry

    During WWII, the arms race between the Allies and the Axis did not only apply to military technology in the form of weapons, but also to encryption methods. The Axis had the Enigma machine and Purple, and the Allies had Type X, SIGABA, and the Navajo code talkers. However, even though Type X and SIGABA were more complex than the Enigma machine, the major reason that the Enigma was broken was because the Germans were careless with the messages that they encoded, not the limitations of plugboard settings and its “extreme complexity” (which is a good thing and probably wouldn’t lead to “repeated message keys, cillies, and stereotypical message”). In fact, Singh states that had the Enigma machine been used properly, it’s entirely possible that the Allies would never have found a way to decrypt it, at least not in time to win the war.

    In addition, despite the strength of their encryptions, the Allies did not just leave the codes as they were after they developed them. Cryptographers can never be completely confident in their encryptions, so while it’s tempting to leave your codes alone and focus all the efforts on cracking enemy codes, it’s better to also find ways to improve security on your own encryptions. In response to the flaws in the Navajo code such as the short list of common words and the potential weakness of having to spell out words, American cryptographers doubled the lexicon of common terms and introduced homophones to confuse cryptanalysts running frequency analysis tests. Had the Allies left their codes alone without improving them, the Germans might have broken one or more of the three Allied encryptions, which could have changed the direction of the war.

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