Wannabe infosec kiddies put Enigma Bombe machine to the test
Shove off, Simon Cowell. This is the X Plus Why? Factor
GCHQ historians will this month put the team that rebuilt the British code-cracking Bombe machine to the test in a third Enigma Challenge.
The Bombe squad will race against time to break Enigma-encoded messages sent by members of the public and GCHQ’s Historical Section. The exercise is due to take place at The Big Bang Fair, a four-day event for young scientists and engineers at London’s ExCel centre between 14 and 17 March.
Visitors to the X Plus Why? Factor stand will be able to encrypt a message on a real German Enigma machine and send it Bletchley Park, the home of British wartime code breakers.
Once at Bletchley, the message will be decrypted using the original procedures and reconstructed code-cracking Bombe machine technology, mimicking the task face by Bletchley's boffins during the Second World War. The decoded message will then be tweeted back to The Big Bang Fair, the whole process displayed live on large TV screens at both sites.
The modern-day code-breakers at Bletchley Park will use the Bombe Rebuild, which is a faithful copy of the original, built as a tribute to those who invented, built and maintained the machines that were crucial to the Allies' success. The electromechanical Bombe machine was developed at Bletchley Park to speed up the process of deducing the encryption configuration of Enigma machines. The three-rotor German contraption had approximately 158 million million million possible settings for scrambling military memos.
The previous Enigma Challenge, held in October 2012, involved the Bombe team beating its own record time for deducing the Enigma settings. The GCHQ historians were at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, where visitors were able to send their own enciphered messages. The fastest time in which the Bombe squad breaking the German device's encryption was two hours and fifteen minutes. They were then able to decipher messages quickly and tweet the plain text so those taking part could get a better idea of how the process worked.
Veteran wrens who operated the machines during the Second World War recall it took an average of four hours each night to work out the day’s settings on each German military network, most of which were changed at midnight every day. ®
Re: If you have any interest at all in the subject...
Agreed about the visit, I'd upvote you more than once if I could :)
> decrypt all the enemy's transmissions but still had to make the enemy think that their systems were secure.
One of the anecdotes I was told when I was there was that the folks at Bletchley noticed that one German station in in Africa was sending a very short message at the same time every day. Someone guessed that it was the equivalent of "All quiet, nothing to report" and that indeed turned out to be the case.
Of course, it was sent using the new key each day, so as long as it remained the same they had the clue they needed to break each day's key. The word was sent to Allied forces in the area to stay well away from that German position, and a couple of guys had a very quiet war, always "All quiet, nothing to report".
If you have any interest at all in the subject...
...get up to Bletchley Park for the day. Seriously, and make sure you take one of the tours (especially if the older fellow who actually worked there during the war is still there). It was quite possibly the best day trip I've ever made. Plus they've got the National Museum of Computing up there too, so you can coo over all the old hard drive platters which come up to your waist - not to mention the Colossus rebuild, of course...
And as FartingHippo mentioned up there, that was the hardest part for me to get my head around - the fact that we could pretty much decrypt all the enemy's transmissions but still had to make the enemy think that their systems were secure. Put yourself in that situation: you know the enemy is going to attack your forces, or even your civilians, but any action you take might mean that you can never again intercept any enemy communications.
All enemy comms readable by dawn each day
it took an average of four hours each night to work out the day’s settings on each German military network, most of which were changed at midnight
That is very, very cool.
While it's widely recognised that this won (or at least shortened) the war, it must have been harrowing to have to ignore most of communications with the loss of thousands of lives. All to make sure the Germans kept believing their system was secure.