Road Trip 2010: CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman couldn't get into the National Security Agency, but he did visit its museum. Think Enigma.
FORT MEADE, Md.--When I was planning Road Trip 2010, which would be on the East Coast, I wanted to arrange a visit to the National Security Agency to talk about the latest technology (that it could talk about). Unfortunately, that opportunity never materialized.
Fortunately, the NSA maintains the National Cryptologic Museum, a fantastic history of code and code-breaking machines, and so my visit ended up being about historical, rather than contemporary, history.
Being about cryptology, there's no doubt that the star of the museum is the Enigma, the German device used by the Nazis in World War II to encrypt their messages and which the Allies finally broke.
This is Enigma. As the museum puts it, "In the years following World War I, both commercial and financial institutions came to rely heavily on radio for rapid worldwide communication. The desire to render their message unintelligible to any but the intended recipient soon gave rise to a small, but lucrative, cipher machine industry.
"Numerous machines and devices were invented to meet the need. The electromechanical, wired-rotor machine known commercially as Enigma was among the best.
"A Dutchman, Hugo A. Koch, conceived the idea of the Enigma in 1919. The first commercial model was produced in 1923."
The museum's explanation continues: "Impressed by Enigma's security, based on careful statistical analysis, the German government moved to acquire all rights to the machine. After Hitler's takeover in 1933, Enigma was no longer commercially available. The use of the machine spread to all branches of the German government. As German military might began to grow, a new version of the machine, which featured an added plugboard or 'steckler,' was adopted for general use by all services."
Click here to read the related story on the National Cryptologic Museum, and click here to check out the entire Road Trip 2010 package.
Though Enigma gets all the glory, the German military worked on other cryptographic typewriters as well. They offered encryption and decryption, meaning that an operator could type in plain text and get encoded text out. They were built to handle large amounts of text at high speeds. An early version of these machines was called "Swordfish," and learning that, the Americans and the British began to give fish nicknames to various versions of the machine.
This is "Tunny," called that by the British after the fish the Americans called tuna. It is a Schlusselzusatz 40 (SZ40), which was made by the German company Lorenz and was used by the German Army for high-level communications, according to the NSA Museum. "It provided on-line encryption and decryption of messages and was capable of handling large volumes of traffic at high speed. The Tunny depended on wheels for its encryption/decryption, but unlike Enigma, it did not substitute letters, but instead encrypted elements of the electrically generated "Baudot Code" used in normal telegraphic transmissions."
In order to make cracking Enigma even harder, the Germans added a plugboard (a "stecker") for military models. "The use of this board prior to encryption allowed the operator manually to change the value of any character. The use of 10 cords was optimum. Combined with Enigma's other features, this added 150 billion variations to the possible cipher value of any character. The pre-selected changes would be included on the daily key list. The fact that Stecker combinations were manually selected, unlike rotor and internal wiring, made them unpredictable. This fact added measurably both to Enigma's security and the confidence the German armed forces placed in the machine."
These are the operational rotors of Enigma. "The German military issued extra rotors with each machine--two for Army and Air Force machines and four for Navy. Each rotor was wired differently and identified with a Roman numeral. Setting up a communications net involved selecting the rotors for the day and placing them in the machine in the proper left-to-right order."
This is Das Heer, the Army version of Enigma. According to the museum, "The three-rotor Enigma became the cryptologic workhorse of the German land forces before World War II and continued as such until V-E Day. Rugged, completely portable, and requiring no external power source, the machine was ideally suited to the highly mobile "lightening" type of war envisioned and practiced by the German High Command.
This is the Enigma Uhr, or clock. It was a mechanical device the German military used in World War II to boost the security of the Enigma.
"When the clock plugs were substituted for the original ones in the Enigma plugboard, the electrical current was directed through the clock. By simply turning the large knob on the clock, the Enigma operator could select 40 different plugging arrangements without actually re-arranging the plugs."
"As a result of radio intercept and timely cryptanalysis, which was aided by poor Comsec on the German radio nets, plans such as those for the decisive air attacks known as the 'Battle for Britain' were revealed to the British well in advance of the intended strike. The losses suffered by the German Air Force during this time were never regained."
This is an M-9 "Bombe checking machine," used by the Allies to counter the message encryption employed by Germans using Enigma machines.
"Since the Allies did not know the Germans' daily rotor selections, several Bombes worked on the same message. Each Bombe tested a different sent of wheel orders. The Bombes usually found two sets of possible rotor settings on each run, but only one solution on one Bombe was the correct wheel order and rotor position used by the Germans for that day. After the Bombe completed a run, a Wave supervisor checked the printed results on this M-9 machine. She checked each result looking for the correct one. Once she found the results, she used the M-9 to fill in any missing plugboard positions. The Bombes could find only a portion of the Stecker positions because the menus were between 13 and 16 letters long, too short to find all the plugboard connections. Having found the correct wheel order, rotor position, and Steckers, the supervisor then sent the results back to the library where Waves and cryptanalysts used an analog machine and decrypted the message. Short messages could be decrypted directly on the M09 and Waves in the library also used the M-9 to work against messages that had other problems, such as garbles."
This is a U.S. Navy cryptanalytic bombe. "The U.S. Navy's cryptanalytic Bombes had only one purpose: determine the rotor settings used on...Enigma."
Created by Joseph Desch, an employee with the National Cash Register Company, these Bombes "worked primarily against the German Navy's four-rotor Enigmas. Without the proper settings, the encrypted messages were virtually unbreakable. The Bombes took only 20 minutes to complete a run, testing each of the 456,976 possible rotor settings within one wheel order. Different Bombes tried different wheel orders, and one of them would have had the final correct settings. When the various U-boat settings were found for the day, the Bombe could be switched over to work on the German Army and Air Force three-rotor messages."
This is the Japanese Navy's Red machine, that country's own version of a cipher machine. "Like its diplomatic counterpart, the [Japanese] navy machine separated the 'alphabet' into two subgroups," according to the museum. "However, instead of using the Romanized spellings, it has a katakana keyboard. It is believed that due to the difficulty in using and maintaining the machine, the Navy Red saw little use by the Japanese fleet."
This Japanese Type-97 cipher machine was called Jade by American cryptanalysts. It was one of three variations of Japanese cipher machines to use a set of telephone selector switches for top-level message encryption or decryption. The others were called Coral and Purple by the Americans.
This Jade machine was captured by the Allies at Saipan in June 1944.
According to the museum, "This is the largest of three surviving pieces of the famous Japanese diplomatic cipher machine [Purple]. It was recovered from the wreckage of the Japanese embassy in Berlin in 1945."
This is a cipher device from the 18th century, which was found by a West Virginia antiques dealer in a home near Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Virginia. It was employed to encrypting French language messages. "A description for a simplified version of the device to be used for the English language has been found in Jefferson's papers and has become known as the 'Jefferson Cipher Wheel.' Although Jefferson may have used it while ambassador to France, a direct connection to [him] of the device exhibited here remains unproven."
It is thought that this device may be the oldest extant "true cipher device" in the world.
Though many people look at quilts like this and see only quaint patterns, it appears that quilts made by slaves in the early 19th century often contained symbols conveying messages of information and advice to others preparing to escape to freedom.
This is a cipher reel used by the Confederate Army during the Civil War. "The principal cryptosystem used by the Confederate government and military was a centuries-old cipher known variously as the 'court' or 'diplomatic' cipher, now referred to as 'the Vigenere' for its 16th century proponent. In its usual form, an alphabetic square or matrix, comprised of 26 alphabets, each slide over by one letter, is combined with a key (usually a phrase) to produce 'polyalphabetic substitution.' To assist the eye and facilitate use of the cipher, the Confederates manufactured several different types of devices, such as the 'reel.'
This is one of just two such devices known to have survived the Civil War and it bears penciled notations of the names of Confederate officers and soldiers.
This is the Hebern Electric Code Machine, from 1918. "In the two decades prior to World War II, Edward H. Hebern was the first American inventor to make a truly significant contribution to cipher machine development. His machines were the first to embody the wired rotor principle of encipherment. Hebern continued to design and build electro-mechanical rotor machines until the eve of World War II."
This is the first of Hebern's rotor machines. It used a single rotor and was made of brass. It worked along with an electric typewriter and was built in Hebern's Oakland, Calif., machine shop.
This is the Connection Machine, also known as Frostburg (CM-5), and it was made by the Thinking Machine Corp. of Cambridge, Mass. The NSA used this machine from 1991 through 1997, and was "the first massively parallel processing supercomputer purchased" by the agency.
This is a two-foot wooden replica of the great seal of the United States, which Soviet school children gave to U.S. Ambassador Averell Harriman in 1946. Harriman hung it in his office in his official residence. But in 1952, during a routine security check during the ambassadorship of George Kennan, it was discovered that the seal had had a hidden microphone and resonant cavity that was designed to be stimulated by a radio signal from the outside.