Feeds

WWII HERO PIGEON crypto message STUMPS GCHQ boffins

Time to call in the Vulture Squadron?

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Brit spook central GCHQ can't decipher a coded message found on a pigeon that died trying to deliver the missive during WWII, and may have to turn to the public for help.

The remains of the bird, found by David Martin in his chimney in Surrey, had a secret message attached - 27 handwritten blocks of code.

The pigeon is reckoned to have flown from Nazi-occupied France, possibly during the D-Day invasions, in June of 1944, and codebreakers at the intelligence agency have been trying to figure out what its message says.

But the problem is that the code could be a one-off encryption, which only the sender and the recipient would have had a key for.

"We didn't really hold out any hopes we would be able to read the message because the sort of codes that were constructed to be used during operations were designed only to be able to be read by the senders and the recipients," GCHQ historian Tony, who asked that only his first name be used, told the BBC.

"Unless you get rather more idea than we have of who actually sent this message and who it was sent to, we are not going to find out what the underlying code being used was."

The code could also have been based on a specific codebook put together for one mission that allowed the maximum information about that operation to be sent in the shortest possible message. If the codebook has since been destroyed, that would also make the encryption practically unbreakable.

Since the message is written on an official pad, historians don't think it was sent by a spy - because a spook wouldn't want to carry anything official around in case they were caught. In fact, the theory is that it was an Army units message, since the abbreviation "Sjt W Stot" is in the message and the Army used that old fashioned spelling of Serjeant.

Experts have also discredited the idea that the bird may have been on its way to codebreaking offices at Bletchley Park, as this was a station to decode German and Japanese messages, not somewhere British military were regularly sending communications.

GCHQ has been able to narrow it down a small bit by pigeon identification numbers. Each of the 250,000 or so birds used as messengers during the war were given an ID number, but this message contains two of these numbers and the agency is unsure which one relates to the pigeon found in the chimney.

Some help from the public could give GCHQ the contextual information it needs to help decode the message, such as the identity of Sjt Stot and clues to the identities of the sender and recipient.

"There are still quite a lot of people alive who worked in communications centres during the war and who might have some knowledge about this and it would be very interesting if anyone did have information if they could put it in the pot and we could see if we could get any further with it," Tony said. ®

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

More from The Register

next story
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
Jihadi terrorists DIDN'T encrypt their comms 'cos of Snowden leaks
Intel bods' analysis concludes 'no significant change' after whistle was blown
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
China hacked US Army transport orgs TWENTY TIMES in ONE YEAR
FBI et al knew of nine hacks - but didn't tell TRANSCOM
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.