Breaking of the Enigma Machine
Above Photo of Enigma Machine by Alessandro Nassiri
The Enigma machine was developed in the early 20th century at the end of World War I, and used in all branches of the German military during World War II. The Enigma machine was an encryption device which scrambled the letters of the alphabet with an electromechanical rotor mechanism. Settings for each machine were changed daily for security to protect the messages from becoming deciphered through intercepted radio signals. As with all encrypted messages, both the transmitting and receiving stations needed to know the settings to decrypt messages successfully.
Breaking the Machine
In 1932 a Polish mathematician and cryptanalyst from the Polish Cipher Bureau, Marian Rejewski, used the theory of permutations and poor security/procedures by cipher clerks to find the message keys used by the Enigma machine. Though he was able to determine the six permutations of the cycle groups, he was not able to read any messages as he did not know how the plugboard was set or the positions of the rotors.
Finally, a big breakthrough arrived through French spy Hans-Thilo Schmidt. The spy was able to gain access to German cipher materials including keys for the plug-board settings. The materials were passed on to the Polish, and Rejewski used some of the material and German message traffic to solve the rotor wiring.
Eventually, the Polish mathematicians built their own Enigma machines called Enigma doubles. The Polish Cipher Bureau was able to find all of the components of the daily key after discovering techniques to use the plug-board and were able to decipher the German Enigma messages in 1933. Even though the German cryptographic procedures improved over time, the Polish Cipher Bureau was able to develop techniques and design machines to continue reading the German Enigma messages.
In 1939, the British evacuated four Polish code-breakers with the Enigma double machines and learned the details of the Enigma machines and operating procedures of the Germans. The British were able to decode a large number of messages and gain intelligence towards aiding the Allied war effort. Although the Enigma machine had some weaknesses, it was the flaws made by the Germans which enabled the Allies to succeed in deciphering the messages.
There is so much to cover on this topic of the Enigma machine as well as cryptography in general. To learn more, check out the following resources:
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