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WWII Colossus Codecracker Outdone by a German 182

superglaze writes "The Colossus codecracker contest was a short-lived ordeal. Not only has it been outdone in a cipher-breaking challenge, but — irony of ironies — it was beaten by a German! From the story: 'The winner was Joachim Schüth, from Bonn, who completed the task using software he wrote himself. "[Schüth] cracked the most difficult code yesterday," said the museum's spokesperson on Friday. "We're absolutely delighted. He used specially written software for the challenge. Colossus is still chugging away, as we got the signals late. Yesterday the atmospheric conditions were such that we couldn't get good signals.'"
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WWII Colossus Codecracker Outdone by a German

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  • wait wait wait. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by moogied ( 1175879 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:05PM (#21380479)
    I thought germans weren't allowed to have hacking software on there computers?

    "user disabling or circumventing computer security measures to access secure data," []

    Perhaps because they wanted him to "crack" it?

    • I'm missing where anybody said anything about hacking, can you enlighten me? Everything talks about a contest to crack the code, and how the German used a military programming language (Ada) to crack it.

      Where's the hacking?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by moogied ( 1175879 )
        Sure! :) The section of the law(if you want to look it up) is Section 202c StGB. The law basically say it is illegal to possess, distrubute, sell, or *create*, any software which has the ability to displace security. Such as cryptography.. he "uses his own program" to decrypt the message. Which in turn displaced its security..

        Now I do not really believe this is illegal under german law.. but I am saying that I would not be suprised if someone tried to charge him.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 )
          Ahhh, I see now.

          So basically the Germans have screwed themselves in regards to people within their own country testing their own security. (i.e. company hires individual to test encryption, etc)

          It seems that way anyway.

          Nice! Lots of forward thinking here. :P
          • Yup, absolutely, that was the overwhelming slashdot response when their new law was first posted about.

            hackers who are doing illegal things anyway will play with all the toys they care to, as they won't care about the new law any more than the old ones, and anyone trying to test and secure their own system would be in breach of the law for having or using security software.
  • by ronadams ( 987516 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:06PM (#21380493) Homepage
    "Colossus DRM System" project...
  • Vee Haf (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:09PM (#21380525)
    Vee haf vays uf makink you drink more Ovaltine!
  • Irony? (Score:3, Informative)

    by SnoopJeDi ( 859765 ) <snoopjedi AT gmail DOT com> on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:10PM (#21380549)
    It's not irony! :(
    • by Liselle ( 684663 )
      Tag it !irony, I know I did. :P
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 )
      The actual reality of the situation does not diminish the ironic juxtaposition in our minds of a Nazi helping the Allies.

      And if irony is so misused, why isn't there a word to fill that gap? We have sarcasm and hypocrisy, (and, of course, bad luck and coincidence), so what is the word for something doing its opposite for dramatic or humorous effect?
      • There are up to a million words claiming to have been incorporated into the English lexicon. Are you seriously suggesting that in all the words you don't know, there does not exist one that more precisely specifies the meaning currently occupied by sloppy application of the word "Irony?"
      • Actually, if you look irony up in a few [] online [] dictionaries [], you'll find that "unexpected outcome of events" is now an accepted meaning.

        It's still a disputed meaning, to be sure, but then I remember hearing "ain't is not a word!" growing up. I never hear that at all anymore. Now it's informal. I imagine most contractions were at one point.

        English is not a dead language.
        • Actually, if you look irony up in a few [] online [] dictionaries [], you'll find that "unexpected outcome of events" is now an accepted meaning.

          But how does this fall under "unexpected outcome of events"? Is there some reason that a German was uniquely unlikely to crack to code? I thought Germans were generally pretty good at math and computing. This doesn't fit under ANY definition of irony that I can think of.

          • A German cracking a code is not unexpected.

            A German cracking an "uncrackable" code used by the German forces in WWII on a computer the British used to crack the same code when the Allied cracking of German "uncrackable" codes helped lead to Allied victory is.

            If you don't see it, though, I'm afraid I can't help you in your semantic crusades.
            • A German cracking an "uncrackable" code used by the German forces in WWII on a computer the British used to crack the same code when the Allied cracking of German "uncrackable" codes helped lead to Allied victory is.

              Why? I mean, the signal for this challenge was transmitted from Germany! Germans were in a prime position to receive the signals to be cracked.

              If you don't see it, though, I'm afraid I can't help you in your semantic crusades.

              Or maybe the irony just isn't there, if you can't adequately explain it?

      • They do, it's "coincidence"
    • Sure it is. It's like rain on your wedding day, which is the most ironic thing that could ever happen to anybody.
  • Of course the German was able to crack it first. I mean, Colossus was made to crack German codes. Clearly this German guy already knew how to crack it to begin with...
    • by RingDev ( 879105 )
      Actually, the encrypted text was written in German, and the local broadcasts were made IN Germany.

      So it would be significantly more amazing if someone OTHER than a German cracked it.

    • by sakusha ( 441986 )
      Um.. you're making a lame joke, right? Because EVERYBODY knows how to crack these codes by now. It is a classic study in cryptography, in many textbooks as an example, the implementation is left to the reader as an exercise.
  • by magarity ( 164372 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:15PM (#21380619)
    Now I just need a copy of the software on my laptop and a time warping wormhole to 1942.
    Just have to remember not to ask for "pepsi, free"...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Cheesey ( 70139 )
      Be sure to seal the wormhole after yourself, so that the Nazis can't sneak a copy of AES through it.
    • Totally offtopic, but my freshman roommate and I were both military history buffs and slightly nutter. We had an imagination game called "Go back in time with a machine gun" that we used to play while drinking heavily. The challenge was to construct the most compelling fantasy of altering historical events merely by traveling back in time for a few hours with an M-60 machine gun and a lot of ammo. The Punic wars (for instance) just wouldn't be the same.

      Although the fact is that the game only really makes
      • by AaxelB ( 1034884 )
        I think bringing a digital camera and a stack of memory cards (not that I actually have either in my dorm room, but I could on short notice if I had plans to time travel) would be more efficient than the portable scanner, and you could go for longer. The challenge would be convincing the librarians or guards or whatever to let you in and not run you through with a spear. I'm sure they protected their scrolls pretty carefully...

        I suppose you could bring a supply of gold/precious stones, though they might b
        • by db32 ( 862117 )
          You are ignoring the classic education of Army of Darkness...this is my boom stick! Just bring the mentioned machine gun AND a camera... This also assumes you can return to your time, and with the camera, in which case why not just toss the scrolls back on through as well?
          • by AaxelB ( 1034884 )
            Naturally, the gun was my first thought, and it'd be hella fun to bring one along regardless. I guess I was thinking that shooting someone would just make them attack you, and peacefully convincing them that you're a god might make it easier to work undisturbed, or make silly demands and edicts. On second thought, though, shooting someone through the chest would probably instantly elevate you to god status, and you could just point or make silly noises to command them from then on.

            And taking the scrolls is
        • Bring some Aluminum. It's dirt cheap now that we have the electrical power to create it artificially, but it's extremely hard-to-find naturally and for most of history, aluminum has been one of the most rare metals there is. Napoleon dined with aluminum silverware, reserving the gold for his guests.
          • by AaxelB ( 1034884 )
            Ooh, good thought. I was looking up what they already used as currency, and it all seemed like the exchange rates from today wouldn't be very favorable, despite wider availability. I'd abandoned the precious metals because displaying god-like powers sounds like more fun, but copious aluminum would probably bolster my deity status, too.
            • Expand your horizons, too. There are tons of materials we have today that could be extremely valuable at any time in history. If you've seen "The Gods Must Be Crazy" you already know the kind of impact something as simple as a glass bottle can have to a people who've never seen one before. But also, plastics of every kind, most of which didn't exist before the 20th century. Bring one of those mood-ring materials that change color when you change their temperature. Maybe a Superball would be good, too, or Sc
              • If you bring back something no one has ever seen before, then you are much more likely to draw attention to yourself. It's bad enough if you show up with a cache of some extremely pure, extremely valuable commodity.

                I think the answer is more to visit Africa at a time when you can pick up diamonds off the beach, and then bring them back here.

        • I've toyed with the question of "What would you take back in time with you to make yourself wealthy no matter where you land?" Best answer I could come up with: stainless steel needles. Yes...sewing needles. You can carry an amazing amount and variety of needles in a relatively small container. Do you have any idea what a single fine steel needle would cost back in 1100 AD...assuming you get such a thing?

          Well, maybe you want to bring the Glock too, just in case the local powers don't feel compelled to tre

      • Sounds fun! But what would pictures of musty old scrolls we've already probably gotten past the need of do? If it were me, I'd instead try to stop the fire and/or spread the knowledge so we have an altered history of not having to relearn all that stuff and possibly end up even more advanced that we currently are because we spent time on newer things.
        • History. There were history texts there that went back farther than anything we have now, with sources that were closer to the events than we have access to now.

          I don't think we even know what we lost.

          The currency to get you into the library would be information. We have lots of information they didn't have--maps would be good. Drawings of animals they didn't have. Lots of stuff.
      • by kliklik ( 322798 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:12PM (#21381429) Homepage
        Just as you surround yourself with the most important scrolls and start scanning, the battery in your laptop decides to explode, starting the fire.
      • by hey! ( 33014 )
        How about: travel back in time with a knowledge of the germ theory of disease?

        An army is a large group of men living in close quarters, under stress. In other words, a microbe's banquet. I've read historical accounts of battles that offhand mention the fraction of soldiers who are disabled by infections like dysentery, and it's astonishing the degree to which health casualties outnumber battle casualties. How many battles woudl have gone differently if the quartermasters knew about basic food safety? Ath
        • It was well-understood in ancient times that arrows contaminated with fecal matter (not hard to find in a battlefield) would kill the victim by infection even if the wound itself was not severe. Also, the importance of sanitation was understood by many ancient societies, though not all, even if they did not fully understand the mechanics of why it was important.
      • A decently-sized battalion of archers, or even a single one firing from a well-concealed position, would not leave the machine gunner much time to contemplate his technological superiority. One should not underestimate the capacity of our species to destroy itself, with *or* without technology.
  • source code (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:19PM (#21380661)
    He posted the source code on his hompeage at [].
    Most of it is written in Ada.
  • racism? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:25PM (#21380745) Homepage Journal
    I could understand a stereotype tag, even a nationalism tag, but racism? Are the taggers implying that people from German are of different races than the rest of the world?

    I RTFA and there is nothing racist in there. Just that a guy from Germany cracked the code using some software written in Ada.

    • Pfft. The Boston Marathon is *obviously* superior to the Tour de France, and the Iditarod beats them bo--... Oh, wait.
    • Is it also sexist because HE wrote the program HIMself? I mean, c'mon!
  • by Some_Llama ( 763766 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:29PM (#21380807) Homepage Journal
    oh wait..
  • by mattr ( 78516 ) <.mattr. .at.> on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:09PM (#21381375) Homepage Journal
    Heise security article says, "...British and German secret services initially had reservations about the cipher challenge."

    I'd like to know more about what they said. Are they worried it will encourage kids to get interested in crypto? Where do they expect to pick up talented cryptographers anyway?
    • I'd like to know more about what they said. Are they worried it will encourage kids to get interested in crypto?

      They are worried because they are still using those codes. Clearly they had not been cracked until now so they must have been secure. Now they are going to have to make things even harder by doing a ROT13 encryption first.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by HRogge ( 973545 )
      The German museum which did the sending part of the whole project had to borrow a Lorenz SZ42 encryption engine from England (because the Allies grabbed all of them after WW2). The English GCHQ ( feared that someone would call it war booty (sp?) and a court might decide they don't get it back.

      Same reason why the art taken by the Russians by the end of WW2 can never be shown outsite Russia... according to most countries laws they would have to confiscate it..
  • Achtung! (Score:5, Funny)

    by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:13PM (#21381437) Homepage
    Das encryptmachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben. Ist easy wrecken der secrets, schnatchendatas und breakensecurity mit grossembrassen. Ist nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen.
  • It has been ~70 years now, hasn't it? A couple of generations.. At least keep the outdated references limited to cold war stuff.
    • It has been ~70 years now, hasn't it? A couple of generations.. At least keep the outdated references limited to cold war stuff.

      You must live here in the US. Only Americans think that 200 years is a long time.

      A couple of generations? Pah! That's nothing. There's some guy in a funny hat pulling some fatarsed westerner around in a rickshaw that old someplace on the planet right now.

  • Why irony? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by xPsi ( 851544 ) *
    Why irony to describe the result? irony: incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs. Here the expectation, even if misguided, is a historical one, not a nationalistic nor skill-based one. Since irony is based on expectation, it is as much an emotional process as an intellectual one. It is not necessarily a rational response; it CAN be just a sensation one gets. Obviously no one doubts Germans are technically capable of cracking codes, so expectation is not twisted around for th
    • by uradu ( 10768 )
      And in other news, over-analyzing humor takes all enjoyment out of it, along the lines of "what the hell would a rabbi do in a bar?!".
  • Well, yeah! Being a German he obviously had a head start on all of this.
  • From []:
    ``The PC used was a laptop with 1.4 GHz CPU, using NetBSD as the operating system'' - so much for being dead. :-)

      - Hubert

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!