Feeds

Canadian man: I solved WWII WAR HERO pigeon code!

GCHQ: Er, I think you'll find...

High performance access to file storage

An amateur code-breaking enthusiast and history buff from Canada claims to have succeeded where professional cryptographers from GCHQ failed in decoding a message found on the long-dead remains of a carrier pigeon.

Gord Young, from Peterborough, in Ontario, claims that the message can be deciphered using a WWI codebook he inherited. A spokesman from GCHQ was skeptical but offered to look at the proposed solution.

Young claimed the 1944 note made use of code used in the previous World War to encrypt details of German troop positions in Normandy. He claims it only took him him 17 minutes to decipher the message using an inherited code book.

The encrypted message itself was discovered by 74-year-old David Martin when he was renovating the chimney of his house in Bletchingley, Surrey. The message containing 27 handwritten blocks of code was preserved in a red canister Martin extricated from a long dead pigeon's leg among the rubbish. The piece of paper featured the words "Pigeon Service" at the top and was forwarded to top code-breakers at GCHQ in November, but they were unable to make sense of it.

Attempts to decipher the code attracted worldwide media attention. Young claims he was able to unravel the message using his great-uncle's Royal Flying Corp [92 Sqd-Canadian] aerial observers' book. The code relies heavily on acronyms, so that AOAKN supposedly means "Artillery Observer At 'K' Sector, Normandy" and CMPNW allegedly equates to "Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working", the BBC reports.

According to Young's theory, the message was written by 27-year-old Sgt William Stott, a Lancashire Fusilier who carried out reconnaissance work in Normandy, and filed his reports on German positions using carrier pigeons. The reports are dated 27 June 1944. Sgt Stott died weeks later and is buried in Normandy. He didn't live to see the liberation of Paris in late August 1944.

It's a nice story, however, although commentards to a post on the story by cryptographer Bruce Schneier note that backronyms can be constructed to fit with pretty much anything.

GCHQ remains unmoved by Young's code-wrangling.

"We stand by our statement of 22 November 2012 that without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption used, the message will remain impossible to decrypt," a spokesman told the BBC.

"Similarly it is also impossible to verify any proposed solutions, but those put forward without reference to the original cryptographic material are unlikely to be correct."

Around 250,000 pigeons were used as carriers of secret communications during World War II. Each had their own individual identity number. The two pigeon identification numbers in the message - NURP.40.TW.194 and NURP.37.OK.76 - allowed Young to link the birds with Sgt Stott. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Oz bank in comedy Heartbleed blog FAIL
Bank: 'We are now safely patched.' Customers: 'You were using OpenSSL?'
Forget the beach 'n' boardwalk, check out the Santa Cruz STEVE JOBS FOUNTAIN
Reg reader snaps shot of touching tribute to Apple icon
Happy 40th Playmobil: Reg looks back at small, rude world of our favourite tiny toys
Little men straddle LOHAN, attend tiny G20 Summit... ah, sweet memories...
Lego is the TOOL OF SATAN, thunders Polish priest
New minifigs like Monster Fighters are turning kids to the dark side
Dark SITH LORD 'Darth Vader' joins battle to rule, er, Ukraine
Only I can 'make an empire out of a republic' intones presidential candidate
Chinese company counters pollution by importing fresh air
Citizens line up for bags of that sweet, sweet mountain air
Google asks April Fools: Want a job? Be our 'Pokemon Master'
Mountain View is prankin' like it's 1999...
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.