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Encryption Communications The Military

WW2 Pigeon Code Decrypted By Canadian? 158

Posted by timothy
from the pinned-down-send-fries-and-gravy dept.
Albanach writes "At the start of November Slashdot reported the discovery of a code, thought to be from the Second World War, found attached to the leg of a pigeon skeleton located in an English chimney. Now a Canadian by the name of Gord Young claims to have deciphered the message in less than 20 minutes. He believes that the message is comprised mostly of acronyms."
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WW2 Pigeon Code Decrypted By Canadian?

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  • by fyngyrz (762201) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:27PM (#42308409) Homepage Journal

    ...squabbling about this.

  • Also, (Score:4, Funny)

    by Mitreya (579078) <mitreya@gmail . c om> on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:31PM (#42308423)
    I have inherited a number of books and each one of them can be used to decode the message!
  • Makes some sense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:31PM (#42308425) Homepage Journal

    If you are in enemy territory sending messages back to your headquarters you want to be able to encode quickly and move fast to avoid capture. If the pidgeon is caught it is going to give away your position (somewhat) regardless of whether its message is decrypted so the strength of the crypto may not be so important to you.

    • by rioki (1328185) on Monday December 17, 2012 @05:03AM (#42312233) Homepage
      They do that even today. The level of encryption is determined by the value of the Information. The value of the information is determined by how long the information is useful. For example positions and orders may be not be useful after a day so no need to use encryption that takes longer to break then a day.

      Remember this is WW2 and encryption was really difficult. Either you could compute the cypher by hand and you had a high chance of error or you carried a heavy machine around that did the encryption. If you where a scout deep in enemy territory, having a bulky encryption machine is not very helpful.
  • Not bad... (Score:2, Funny)

    by broginator (1955750)
    ...for just winging it.
  • Well, duh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WegianWarrior (649800) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:37PM (#42308457) Journal

    Gord Young, from Peterborough, in Ontario, says it took him 17 minutes to decypher the message after realising a code book he inherited was the key.

    Not hard to "crack" a code if you have access to the relevant code book - which a) GCHQ says they don't have, and b) can hardly be called cracking the code. The possible point of failure is - as I'm sure I'm not the only one to spot - if Mr Young has the wrong codebook; codes got shifted and shuffled a lot, and the wrong code book might give a plausible plain text that is never the less incorrect.

    Gonna be fun to see what more comes of this.

    • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Neil_Brown (1568845) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:41PM (#42308491) Homepage

      Not hard to "crack" a code if you have access to the relevant code book

      It was not a "code book" in any traditional sense of the term, at least in a crypto context — the message, according to this solution, was simply heavily-abbreviated plaintext.

      It seems that "txtspk" actually originated from pigeon messaging :)

    • Re:Well, duh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:43PM (#42308499) Journal

      Yep, "it's a bunch of acronyms", i.e. a bunch of random letters, is suspicious. Unless they line up with known shorthand, it's probably not actually decrrypted.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This appears to be a rare case of the slashdot title and summary being more accurate than the original article. Yes, it was decrypted, not cracked.

      • Re:Well, duh (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Patch86 (1465427) on Monday December 17, 2012 @06:08AM (#42312437)

        I disagree. According to Mr Young, it was not encrypted in the first place- it's a plain-text message composed entirely of acronyms. If it isn't encrypted, you can't decrypt it.

        Heavily abstracted plain-text CAN be a code, however; and you "crack" a code. Or "decode" a code would probably be more accurate.

        • by dywolf (2673597)

          reminds me of people who get so into crypto that all they see is the math, to where the math is all that matters, and lose sight of its ultimate purpose: keeping something hidden from someone else.

    • Papa bear to mama bear. The poutine is getting cold. Over.

    • by ntropia (939502)

      Not hard to "crack" a code if you have access to the relevant code book

      Basically:
      IDKFA
      IDDQD

  • by DarrenBaker (322210) <darren@@@flim...net> on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:44PM (#42308507) Homepage

    Canada's singularity will be when all of us are named Gord. I figure we're about five years away.

    • I know nothing about singularities in Canada, but I'm convinced that we'll have to invade Canada soon, and confiscate all the old, obsolete code books.

      Anyway - I thought the singularity was supposed to originate in India. Or, maybe it was England. Crap, who cares where it originates - let's just invade EVERYWHERE, so that we can head it off!

    • by Kittenman (971447)

      Canada's singularity will be when all of us are named Gord. I figure we're about five years away.

      Gord help us

  • by nuckfuts (690967) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:48PM (#42308527)
    atyeu ushtr tasga poend
    stsgd yyenb shjdm plkag
  • Too generic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East (318230) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:59PM (#42308569) Homepage Journal

    I don't believe this is a correct "interpretation" of the message, as it is too generic. Nothing contained in the message is of any use whatsoever. "Hit Jerry’s right or reserve battery here", "Troops, panzers, batteries, engineers, here", "Counter measures against panzers not working", "Go over field notes", "Found headquarters infantry right here"

    What good is any of that? Where is "here"? There would have to be precise coordinates or grid numbers to indicate exactly what is where.

    The other question is where would the pigeon be delivering this message to? All the way back to some headquarters in Britain is where. In that case the context of the message is even less useful, especially considering there would be a several hour delay before the message could be delivered all the way from France to Britain.

    More information on these sites, includes the various "decoded" phrases.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/12/16/world-war-2-pigeon-code-cracked_n_2311364.html [huffingtonpost.co.uk]
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2248818/Hit-Jerrys-panzers--code-dead-wartime-pigeon-cracked.html [dailymail.co.uk]

    • Re:Too generic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:18PM (#42308623) Homepage Journal

      Maybe "here" is known to the recipient, but the sender doesn't want to include it in the message. He was sent to a location and is reporting on his findings.

      • It may have been known to which unit the pigeon was assigned, yeah? So perhaps the recipient knew where "here" was?
      • by Xest (935314)

        Exactly, if the HQ in Britain knows which pidgeon is assigned where either by recognising the pidgeon, or because of some identifying mark on the message, or the pidgeon's message tube itself then it would know exactly where "here" was.

        It would in fact make far more sense to do it this way, as otherwise if the Nazis caught the pidgeon then they'd know too where the message was being sent from and hence learn that their panzer tactics were working in that area and could hence double up on them.

        Including the

        • by mangu (126918)

          if the Nazis caught the pidgeon then they'd know too where the message was being sent from

          I suppose the Nazis knew where their own headquarters, panzers, and engineers were located, right? If that interpretation is correct, the way that message is worded pinpoints the agent's position.

          • by Xest (935314)

            Well the point is that there will have been many panzer divisions, if they capture the pidgeon 100 miles from where it was released, then how do they know which panzer division is working well based on the message? What if they get it wrong and reinforce a panzer division that is instead struggling and just end up throwing a load of extra panzers to the slaughter?

            Unless there's something particularly specific in the message (like coordinates that the GGP implied should be contained) then it's still a tough

    • by Shinobi (19308)

      Not necessarily too generic.

      The intelligence service running this would have issued the specific "book" to a specific agent. That agent would have orders to operate inside a specific area and report from there.

      Another potential identifier is the specific pigeon, which could also show which agent/cell, and thus what area the message concerned.

    • Re:Too generic (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:53PM (#42308785)

      Furthermore, half the text isn't "decrypted" yet, the "decryption" is inconsistent in places and acronym-based crypts don't tend to yield a neat letter grid like this.
      What makes matters worse is that not only is the proposed text not useful at all, but it's complete gibberish. There is no trace of a narrative there; it reminds me very much of the texts that ghost hunters produce after listening to the noise of detuned FM radios.
      A more realistic text would be: Found Panzer Group West HQ in château Le Bourg at La Caine. Commander, X infantry, Y tanks. &c. &c.
      My best bet is that given that the proposed acronym solution yields gibberish and that the letters form a neat grid, that this was either a one-time pad or a code-book based code. If a OTP message, it must have been sent very late in the war, but on the other hand OTP messages from the time do look exactly like this. Which is a downer because without knowing how to identify the key we'll never know what it says since OTP security is absolute (if a key at least as long as the message is used).

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      If they know who sent the message and he's an embedded spy, they may be able to determine 'where' is quote easily.

      But i do agree, it doesn't 'sound' right. But then again, i wasn't spying writing 'code' back in WWII for the British.

    • by medv4380 (1604309)
      In the message there were several sets of numbers. One set it probably the decryption setting like the information for the one time pad or something similar and the other sets are probably the "here" you're so stressed out about.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:16PM (#42308619)

    The alleged decoded message:

            AOAKN - Artillery Observer At "K" Sector, Normandy
            HVPKD - Have Panzers Know Directions
            FNFJW - Final Note [confirming] Found Jerry's Whereabouts
            DJHFP - Determined Jerry's Headquarters Front Posts
            CMPNW - Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working
            PABLIZ - Panzer Attack - Blitz
            KLDTS - Know [where] Local Dispatch Station
            27 / 1526 / 6 - June 27th, 1526 hours

    • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:55PM (#42308793) Homepage Journal

      I sometimes get email at work resembling:

      "Please fix the JKUR web-site because the Chief of LKMSF is coming during the EYHFKD conference to inspect the MSFLSA before the JOTMS sees it. Thus, it has priority IBRKM! I mean it, too."

      Maybe I should hire this Canadian dude.

    • The alleged decoded message:

      AOAKN - Artillery Observer At "K" Sector, Normandy HVPKD - Have Panzers Know Directions FNFJW - Final Note [confirming] Found Jerry's Whereabouts DJHFP - Determined Jerry's Headquarters Front Posts CMPNW - Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working PABLIZ - Panzer Attack - Blitz KLDTS - Know [where] Local Dispatch Station 27 / 1526 / 6 - June 27th, 1526 hours

      I knew this all along. I just didn't want to tell anyone.

      • by hpa (7948)
        It seems a bit odd that the groups would be exactly five characters long *except* PABLIZ (which looks more like PABUZ to me.) At the same time, the repetition of the group AOAKN would be consistent with the message *not* being encrypted with a one-time pad.
        • by devjoe (88696)
          Maybe. But in using one-time pads with codes like this there needs to be something to indicate WHICH one-time pad was used. Other codes are known to do something similar. For example, Enigma had initial rotor settings [wikipedia.org] in combination with other agreed-upon global daily settings, and these were encoded (using agreed-upon settings) twice at the start of each message. Here, perhaps AOAKN indicates which one-time pad was used, and it is repeated at the start and end of the message to allow the message to be deci
    • by interval1066 (668936) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @06:33PM (#42308957) Homepage Journal
      This message, if accurate, should be easily verifiable. This part of the message is particularly telling; "Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working". It should be a small matter to look at some archives for D-Day's "K" sector at 3:26 on the 27th of June '44 and see if any other dispatches mention any particular counter measures against the German armor in the area failed.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Searched the net and found this http://www.dday-overlord.com/eng/27_june_1944.htm

        "The Epsom operation continues in the West of Caen, and the 49th British Infantry division, after hard fightings, manages to liberate the village of Raurey. The 15th Scottish Infantry division, after having made safe the village of Cheux, wishes to continue its fulgurating progression and moves towards the bridges on the Odon river, major objectives of the Operation Epsom. But it is slowed down by the defenders of Panzer Lehr w

        • by Xest (935314)

          "Need somebody with more detail about the battle on this day."

          Sadly, less and less such people continue to exist, at least who can give first hand accounts. My grandfather were he alive may have been one such person as he was a Royal Marine Commando motorcycle courier on the front lines active in that region on that day.

          He survived the war and had many amazing stories to tell but passed away of old age 5 years ago. Sadly most of even the mementos are lost as the two SS daggers he seized and kept from a pair

      • "Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working".

        This is probably a reference to the PIET anti-tank weapon. It was widely regarded as a piece of shit. Complaints to HQ about it would not be unique.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PIAT [wikipedia.org]

    • Improvisation is a parlour trick, anybody can do it. Chewing gum is really gross, chewing gum I hate the most. See, exactly the same.

    • by pbjones (315127)

      inconsistent use of acronyms seems to stick out here. Oh well, at least he got his name on /. I'll wait for more hard evidence, actually, IDGAS.

    • by kune (63504)
      This reading of the message is unlikely to be correct. There are following reasons:
      • The message about the panzers is useless without knowing the actual direction the panzers drive to. The same is true for Jerry's whereabouts.
      • It is highly unlikely that the codebook used would use the first letters of the messages. Codes were not always strong, but this would border on pure incompetence.
      • If the codes are actually consisting of the first letters of message words, one would expect the letter frequencies of the
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      How can "A" be "Attack", "Artillery", and "At"? How does he know it's not "Attack Observer (with) Artillery Know Sector, Normandy" for example? Part of the point of a prearranged code is that it unambiguously encodes a single message. Otherwise it's not sufficiently reliable to send valuable military intelligence.

      • by dywolf (2673597)

        because presumably in his source book there's only one accepted meaning for any given acronym

    • You forgot:

      SMOSD - Send More Ovaltine, Supplies Diminishing
  • Backronyms (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Admiral Burrito (11807) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:17PM (#42308621)

    I don't know about WWI/WWII acronyms but it seems unlikely that they were all exactly five letters long and had letter frequency like this (look at all those Qs, Xs, and Zs). I do know that ciphertext is usually written in groups of five letters to provide spacing without giving clues about the spacing of the plaintext. Also, there is a bit of stuff in the middle of the page below the ciphertext (cropped out of most photos), which if I remember right was used for metadata about what code was used.

    This sounds like a case of someone looking at random stuff and trying a bit too hard to make sense of it.

    • Re:Backronyms (Score:4, Informative)

      by pla (258480) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @06:37PM (#42308973) Journal
      I don't know about WWI/WWII acronyms but it seems unlikely that they were all exactly five letters long and had letter frequency like this

      Regardless of either the plaintext or the encoding algorithm (though some specifically require this), splitting things into pentagrams (as in, 5-gram, not the occult symbol) pretty much ruled the crypto world for all of the modern era up to the computer age. It hides the original sentence structure (which can, in some cases, give away almost as much as an actual decryption), and works out conveniently for transcribing (that whole "seven short term memory slots" thing - If you've ever wondered why Microsoft keys use groups of five, now you know).
      • by NJRoadfan (1254248) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @07:06PM (#42309137)

        If you've ever wondered why Microsoft keys use groups of five, now you know).

        That would explain why the coded message seems to work as a Windows XP key!

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        Sure, but that is another reason to be skeptical about the proposed message: it respects the spacing in the original message. A message with equal blocks of text suggests that the original spacing was removed, so anything that has the same spacing would be suspect.

        That doesn't rule it out.

    • Exactly.
      This guy could probably find Bible extracts from my /dev/random.
      Also, they aren't exactly acronyms : He adds words and uses multiple letters (BLIZ) for a single word.

    • by khakipuce (625944)

      In morse code there are a number of 3 letter "Q" codes for common phrases that operators use (e.g. QSL - acknowledge receipt). Q is presumably used because if it is not followed by a U in English then it must be a code and not a word. Equally X and Z are fairly uncommon letters and so may be used more commonly in abbreviations (TX/RX transmit/receive).

      By focring everything to 5 letter groups means that there is some error checking in the message if the sriting is small, closely grouos, gets wet, etc. you kn

  • by CanEHdian (1098955) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:28PM (#42308669)
    On this date in the year 2517, slashdotters are trying to decode the following message (believe to be related to a covert intelligence op codename 'Twitter'): STOP #SOPA #PIPA #HR1981 #NDAA #CISPA #MPAA #RIAA #ACTA #TPPA
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      On this date in the year 2517, slashdotters

      You don't honestly believe this site will still be around in another 505 years, do you? Hell I'd be surprised if it was still around in 2015, considering how rapidly it is losing relevance.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 16, 2012 @06:57PM (#42309085)

      I have a simple solution and have written it in the margin.

  • the real message is much harder to decipher -- and we'll never tell.

  • by shaitand (626655) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:55PM (#42308797) Journal

    His decoding of the data gives specific information about german troops present on a specific day and time in history at a particular location. At least some of it should be verifiable.

    In 17 minutes he certainly wouldn't have time to find a set of conditions that matched the acronyms he was claiming.

    • In 17 minutes he certainly wouldn't have time to find a set of conditions that matched the acronyms he was claiming.

      What about in the couple of months or so that this has been public knowledge?

    • Re-read it. It doesn't actually say much you can verify without a lot more information.

      For example "Jerry's right battery central headquarters here," is useless unless you know precisely where 'here' is. Apparently it's a magical place that not only contains a Nazi Artillery HQ, it also contains "Troops, panzers, batteries, engineers," an Engineer's HQ, Nazi HQ Front posts, and "extra guns." The guns seem to be British. A lot of the rest is just saying the unit sending the pigeon knows something.

      Much of it

  • Is there any evidence that five letter acronyms of this kind were ever used?

    His decryption just sounds made up. JW stands for "Jerry's Whereabouts"? Would "Jerry" ever be used in an official communication? Why does the message use "HV" for "have," then later "D" for "determined," and later still "K" for "know," all which are used as more or less synonymous?

    PABLIZ looks a lot more like "PABUZ" on the original note to me, too, and makes far more sense given the rest of the five-letter blocks.

  • Dubious, right? If nobody knows, mandating outside references exudes oddness. Variable acronyms lose time in nervy efforts! :-) In other words, the initial-based decryption as claimed looks like hopeful nonsense rather than a proper decryption as such. More here:- http://www.ciphermysteries.com/2012/12/16/dead-ww2-pigeon-cipher-cracked-with-ww1-codebook-says-the-mail-errr-really [ciphermysteries.com]
  • EOM

  • ... that the SSL (Secure Squab Layer) implementation on IPoAC [wikipedia.org] isn't as secure as we thought.

  • No idea how anyone thinks this holds up to even a cursory examination ...

    For a better research insight I can recommend http://www.ciphermysteries.com/2012/12/11/at-last-the-secret-history-of-that-dead-cipher-pigeon [ciphermysteries.com] as a good read ... It does claim to decipher the code but provides some coherent analysis around the origin of the message.

  • Bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OneAhead (1495535) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @10:59PM (#42310589)
    I call bullshit on this whole story. The letter frequencies [wikipedia.org] are nicely consistent with a random OTP and woefully inconsistent with shorthand (which Mr. Young claims it is). 6 Q's, 4 X's and 4 Z's as opposed to 5 T's and 4 E's? Gee, there must have been a lot of Queens, Xylophones and Zebra's involved in that war! This alone is sufficient to sink the whole claim. And then there's the little problem that the story is shock full of holes:
    - Mr Young claims they're using WWI-era codes. What makes him think this would be tolerated, in a war in which both sides were heavily reliant on encryption and codebreaking?
    - A WWII artillery observer using carrier pigeons? Seriously??? We're talking about a very mobile war, with widely available radio equipment, and during which radar, jet engines, ballistic and guided missiles, and the atom bomb were invented. By the time the pigeon found home, the target could have moved 100miles. Yes, carrier pigeons were still used, but mainly in a backup capacity, and most certainly not for artillery observation missions.
    - Why would the official codes use "panzers" and "jerries" as opposed to "tanks" and "germans/enemy"? Also, I'm not sure the word "blitz" was colloquial in allied countries before the end of the war. And it's used in a wrong context.
    - "Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working?" There's so much wrong with that sentence I wouldn't know where to start. Not to mention all the other sentences he "decrypted". The guy has a lot of fantasy, I give him that.
  • by SeaFox (739806) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @11:17PM (#42310693)

    ...Gord Young claims to have deciphered the message in less than 20 minutes. He believes that the message is comprised mostly of acronyms.

    Maybe they got the age of the message wrong. This sounds like a modern corporate press release.

  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @11:41PM (#42310881)
    Well, it is clearly Pidgin English.
  • The would-be decrypter says that it is a collection of single character abbreviations. If so, frequency analysis should back up the assertion. Here's the character frequency:

    A:9, B:3, C:3, D:6, E:5, F:6, G:6, H:8, I:4, J:5, K:8, L:3, M:4, N:10, O:7, P:7, Q:6, R:9, S:2, T:5, U:4, V:2, W:2, X:4, Y:3, Z:4

    Every character used at least once, multiple Z's, X's, and Q's, and a pretty flat distribution. A set of abbreviated words would show a more spiky distribution, with peaks on the more common letters and dips o

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