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The Spanish Link In Cracking the Enigma Code 67

Posted by Soulskill
from the paul-harvey-good-day dept.
peetm sends this quote from the BBC: "When the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, both Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy sent troops to help the nationalists under Franco. But with the conflict dispersed across the country, some means of secure communication was needed for the German Condor Legion, the Italians and the Spanish forces under Franco. As a result, a set of modified commercial Enigma machines were delivered by Germany. ... A key figure in trying to understand it was Dilly Knox, a classicist who had been working on breaking ciphers since World War I. He was fascinated by the machine and began studying ways in which an intercepted message might in theory be broken, even writing his own messages, encrypting them and then trying to break them himself. But there was no opportunity to actually intercept a real message since German military signals were inaudible in Britain. However, the signals produced by the machines sent to Spain in 1936 were audible enough to be intercepted and Knox began work. ... Within six or seven months of having his first real code to crack, Knox had succeeded, producing the first decryption of an Enigma message in April 1937."
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The Spanish Link In Cracking the Enigma Code

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  • False claim? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dbthelinguaphile (2556814) on Friday March 23, 2012 @03:16PM (#39454967)
    Maybe the first Brit to read the code, but not the first person. The Poles began to read Enigma messages back in 1932-33 according to the excellently-researched "Enigma: Battle For the Code" by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore. The article is a little clearer, but still can lead one to assume that Dilly Knox was the first to break Enigma messages. He was not. Not to diminish his part in the Enigma saga, but the Poles were reading it long before any other nation.
    • Re:False claim? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by AvitarX (172628) <me@brandywinehund[ ].org ['red' in gap]> on Friday March 23, 2012 @03:37PM (#39455227) Journal

      The Poles were the first, and did so when other nations thought it impossible. The trick the Poles used relied on the fact that the message cipher was duplicated at the start of each message. Once the Germans stopped doing that, the British took over further advancing the decoding.

      Definitely the Polish did it first though, using a machine assembled with plans acquired from the French.

      • by clodney (778910)

        I also seem to recall that many of the Polish codebreakers ended up in Bletchley Park after Poland was overrun, where they continued to be critical to the ongoing efforts to keep up with changes to Enigma.

      • Re:False claim? (Score:4, Informative)

        by boaworm (180781) <boaworm@gmail.com> on Friday March 23, 2012 @04:20PM (#39455713) Homepage Journal

        There were multiple versions of the Enigma, the basic version had only three wheels, and gradually they added a switchboard in the front and finally also a fourth wheel. So even if the machine had the same name, it became much more complex to break over time.

        • by Sigg3.net (886486)

          ... hammer?

          • Enigma Systems Services. This is Hans, how may I help you?

            Hello Günther!

            Oh yes, I understand. Not to worry though, I think we can find a solution.
            First, would you be so kind as to look underneath your Enigma device for your serial number..
            Yes.
            Should be like a swastika circle with the Eagle above.
            'Nazi Inside', right, that's the one!
            Now, there's a number right next to it after S/N, could you read it up to me, Günther?

            Thanks, let me just look you up in the filing cabinet here... Ah!I can see you're

      • Massive oversimplification of the work done by Rejewski, Zygalski, and Rozycki as well as the reason the work was shifted to Bletchley. A little something called 'the invasion of Poland,' perhaps?

        Also, the material provided by German Hans-Thilo Schmidt was critical to the initial break.
        • by AvitarX (172628)

          I could be wrong, but I think part of the sharing of information was not just the impending attack by Germany, but also the fact that the Poles had reached the end of what they were going to be able to do with their resources, not just that they didn't want all the work to be lost. Yes, the German provided the info to the French, who pretty much decided "meh, we can't use this, it's unbreakable" before passing it along to the Polish.

          The Polish effort was absolutely the base for the English effort, and the f

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            You're right. The Poles had the method. They had bombes, which were kind of primitive mechanical computers to crunch the numbers. They also had perforated sheets to keep track of what letters were being used. Their problem was the fact that they just couldn't produce enough of either to keep up. The Navy codes only needed capture of codebooks and machine settings until the Americans got involved and began to crank out bombes in large numbers.
    • by Snowgen (586732) on Friday March 23, 2012 @04:00PM (#39455513) Homepage

      Not to diminish his part in the Enigma saga, but the Poles were reading it long before any other nation.

      I'm pretty sure the Germans were reading it before the Poles.

      (Note to mods: this is "-1 Lame Joke", not "-1 Pedantic"

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MobileDude (530145)
      QFT

      See also:

      "Battle of Wits (The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II)" by Stephen Budiansky 2000
      "Seizing the Enigma (The Race to Break the German U-Boat Codes 1939-1943)" by David Kahn 1991
      "Code Breakers (The Inside Story of Bletchley Park)" by F.H. Hinsley & Alan Stripp 1993
      "Code Ciphers & Other Cryptic & Clandestine Communication" by Fred B. Wrixon 1998

      You can help preserve Bletchley Park by visiting http://www.bletchleypark.org/ and donating your time/money.
    • Another very good book on the Enigma history is David Kahn's
      "Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-boat Codes" [amazon.com].

  • April 1937 (Score:5, Funny)

    by stms (1132653) on Friday March 23, 2012 @03:18PM (#39455003)

    Someone accomplishes some groundbreaking work in cryptography and of course /. doesn't have an article on untill its old news.

  • by Relayman (1068986) on Friday March 23, 2012 @03:19PM (#39455007)
    According to Wikipedia, [wikipedia.org] the Polish cracked the code in 1932.

    I'm always suspicious of "one person" doing anything; usually, it takes a whole group of people to accomplish these things.
    • by Serious Callers Only (1022605) on Friday March 23, 2012 @03:39PM (#39455235)

      According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]...

      It's ok, I've fixed that for you now, it now says Knox was the first.

    • According to Wikipedia, [wikipedia.org] the Polish cracked the code in 1932.

      I'm always suspicious of "one person" doing anything; usually, it takes a whole group of people to accomplish these things.

      You discount the genius or savant who sees an insight into the cipher that everyone else has missed.

      • by mikael (484)

        When most people do addition, multiplication, subtraction or division, they do it in the way you woulf get a computer program to do it using ASCII strings.

        An ioiot savant is either doing the calculation using lookup tables or a optimized and parallelized algorithm.
        Like when you memorize the times table, that is basically associative memory.

    • by PPH (736903)

      Nah. Everyone knows Matthew McConaughey obtained an Enigma machine by capturing the U-571.

  • by Lev13than (581686) on Friday March 23, 2012 @03:19PM (#39455009) Homepage

    The breakthrough was when he figured out that the encryption key was "Be sure to drink your Rioja"

    • And here I thought that the whole German invasion of Poland was to confiscate the T-shirts they were printing with the encryption key on them....

  • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Friday March 23, 2012 @03:19PM (#39455013)
    What the summary doesn't detail is that link is Poland. Germany gave Spain modified Enigma machines that did not have plugboards. Also non-military versions lacked the plugboard. Plugboards increased the complexity of the encryption. Poland working with Knox and the British was able to reverse engineer the workings of these early machines as the Poles could intercept the early signals but Britain could not. This early work led to the decoding of the German military versions later
    • What the summary doesn't detail is that link is Poland. Germany gave Spain modified Enigma machines that did not have plugboards. Also non-military versions lacked the plugboard. Plugboards increased the complexity of the encryption. Poland working with Knox and the British was able to reverse engineer the workings of these early machines as the Poles could intercept the early signals but Britain could not. This early work led to the decoding of the German military versions later

      My understanding of the Enigma is that the plugboards didn't do nearly as much to increase the difficulty of the code-breaking effort as people want to believe. It is, after all, a simple substitution cipher added to the Enigma encryption. You can say that there was an insanely large number of possible plugboard combinations that should have made Enigma uncrackable, but that clearly wasn't the case.

      • Yes is was a simple substitution that added a little more complexity to the overall encryption in theory. In practice, the rotors in combination with a substitution cipher raises the difficulty. If the Allies were starting from scratch, it would have taken them much longer to decipher Enigma. The early work by the Poles and Know had reverse engineered the machine. Reversing the rotors was the first step (which was done). The plugboard settings then had to be determined.

        From wikipedia

        The plugboard contributed a great deal to the strength of the machine's encryption: more than an extra rotor would have done. Enigma without a plugboard (known as unsteckered Enigma) can be solved relatively straightforwardly using hand methods; these techniques are generally defeated by the addition of a plugboard, and Allied cryptanalysts resorted to special machines to solve it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    At the time he did it, the Polish Cipher Bureau has been breaking enigma for over 5 years - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptanalysis_of_the_Enigma#Polish_breakthrough

  • Glitch in the story (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    >... since German military signals were inaudible in Britain.

    What? This is ridiculous, the ionosphere might not be cooperative some of the time, but most of the time if a signal could bounce from Germany to its destinations, it could also go a similar distance to the UK, or Gibraltar, or the many other places the Brits had listening posts.

    • by Sir_Sri (199544)

      Not if it was being sent by Franco from within spain. Maybe Gibraltar or a ship offshore could eavesdrop, but not necessarily, and even if they could, it supposes that the UK cared particularly, which it might not have.

  • by Webcommando (755831) on Friday March 23, 2012 @03:25PM (#39455063) Homepage Journal

    The story behind the Enigma and how the codes were cracked are fascinating. I fell in love with the machine and the concept of rotors, symmetric encode/decode, and how the circuit and mechanical systems worked.

    I was so into it that I wrote a simple free simulator for the iPhone [webcommando.com] that faithfully simulated a set of rotors and include quirks in behavior. It is old and not full featured (one set of rotors, no plug board, etc) but was a labor of love! Someone also has a full featured one for sale in the store now and there are numerous simulators on the net.

    There is a paper based Enigma [mckoss.com] that is an excellent tool for teaching students about this historical device. If you are a WW2 buff, the Enigma is a must on your research list.

  • by axehind (518047)
    No one has yet to crack rot13, or it's successor rot26. The legacy lives on!
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday March 23, 2012 @03:28PM (#39455111)

    Enigma had at least one fatal flaw, that being that a ciphered letter != its plain text letter. That, at least, made it quick to eliminate incorrect solutions, which can be a difficult problem to solve when cipher breaking.

    • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Friday March 23, 2012 @04:00PM (#39455515)

      The other flaws that allowed the British to crack it were operational. The rotors used by the Germans were alphabetically arranged. Randomizing the order would have made reverse engineering harder.

      There were settings that the operator selected that were supposed to be random but some Luftwaffe operators used the same settings over and over again. The German navy had a code book which dictated these settings were to which made them more secure unless the Allies obtained such a code book.

      To prevent a capture, the book was printed on special paper that would disintegrate in contact with water. Captains were instructed to destroy the code books by throwing them overboard. The Allies captured a German vessel that had such a book. The vessel captain abandoned the vessel and then returned to collect his personal belongings rather than destroy the code books.

      Towards the end of the war, U-boat captains correctly guessed that the Allies were deciphering the messages. So the Germans created more rotors and added a 4th slot to the Enigma. This 4 rotor version was only deployed on U-boats;however , to communicate with land based 3 rotor versions a switch could be made to freeze the 4th rotor. Allies listening to U-boat messages to land were able to reverse engineer the additional rotors as the first 3 rotors could be determined.

  • It's curious... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday March 23, 2012 @03:35PM (#39455185) Journal
    How little attention the Spanish civil war(and Franco) get. Once the foreign involvement kicked up, the place was practically a beta test for WWII, and Franco was far longer-lasting than some of his more dramatic colleagues in fascism. And yet, crickets...
    • Because it shows how easily the USA and other governments abandon all pretense of "morality" when it suits well their interest. The war against Hitler was "moral", yet helping his friends (and, in the Nurember trials, many of his economical/industrial supporters) was ok because it suited them.

      If you can not lie about it, make the world forget it (hint: everyone who objects is a communist!!!).

      • by jdgeorge (18767)

        Doesn't it really show that the US was not interested in being involved in another war, as it was still dealing with the fallout of a major economic crisis? (Hint: "Great Depression")

        • Doesn't it really show that the US was not interested in being involved in another war, as it was still dealing with the fallout of a major economic crisis? (Hint: "Great Depression")

          Those who don't know History....

          After WWII, Spain was in an isolated country, with no fuel, little industry and (still) internal and external opposition to the dictatorship.

          The USA easily ignored their own rethoric about democracy and freedom and used Franco as an ally in Cold War, giving him entry in internation organizations (like the UN), providing him with funds and commerce and strenghtening its regime. Invading the country to restore democracy maybe was asking a little too much, supporting a dictator

  • by hackertourist (2202674) <hackertouristNO@SPAMxmsnet.nl> on Friday March 23, 2012 @04:25PM (#39455753)

    The main photo in TFA shows a pair of Enigmas with 4 rotors rather than the customary 3. Interesting, since the only 4-rotor Enigmas I know of are the German Navy ones.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've always wondered how more effective it would have been if another layer of semantic code was put on top of the messages like they did for Navajo during WW2, although I don't know if this would have been feasible.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_talker#Use_of_Navajo
    " The Japanese had an opportunity to attempt this when they captured Joe Kieyoomia ... However, since Kieyoomia had not participated in the code training, the messages made no sense to him."

    I remember hearing the story and all he said was tha

  • The discussion about who cracked the one Enigma code is moot as there never was such a thing, but several models with varying complexity, and several times introducing new cryptographical faults. At one such change in the 1940ies, the problem space was increased dramatically so that the British temporarily lost their already established ability to decode the German navy code, which would have had dramatic consequences on the course of the war if the Bletchley Park team would not have been able to overcome t
  • by K8Fan (37875) on Friday March 23, 2012 @08:32PM (#39457895) Journal

    Actually, a different Spaniard may have had more to do with breaking the German codes.

    Joan Pujol Garcia [wikipedia.org] was a Catalan double agent known to the Germans as Arabel and to the British as Garbo. He became so trusted by the Germans that they gave him their current codes (though not an Enigma machine). He would encrypt his reports, transmit them by radio to Madrid, where they would be re-encrypted and sent on to Berlin. Thus he was able to supply Bletchley with both a current code and the plaintext.

    For his services to the Allies, he was awarded an MBE by King George VI.

    For his services to the Third Reich, he was awarded the Iron Cross by Hitler.

    He was a vital part of Operation Fortitude and convinced the Nazis that the Normandy invasion was a dirversion. He may well have been the greatest bullshit artist who ever lived.

  • Do you still remember the M4 Message Breaking Project [bytereef.org]? I think it was featured in /. back when it started. There it is still lurking and one of the messages apparently remains uncracked.

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