The Enigma machines are a series of cipher machines, developed and used in the early- to mid-20th century to protect commercial, diplomatic and military communication. Enigma was invented by a German engineer at the end of World War Early models were used commercially and were adopted by military and government services of several countries, most notably Nazi Germany during World War II.
The Military Enigma machines were a family of portable cipher machines with rotor scramblers. Good operating procedures, properly enforced, would have made the plugboard Enigma machine unbreakable. However, most of the German military forces, secret services and civilian agencies that used Enigma employed poor operating procedures, and it was these poor procedures that allowed the Enigma machines to be reverse-engineered and the ciphers to be read.
Several different Enigma models were produced, but this German military model with a plugboard was the most complex and difficult to decipher.
In 1938, the Germans added complexity to the Enigma machines by adding more rotors. Up to this point, the Polish Cipher Bureau had been the most successful in deciphering earlier units, however with the increasing complexity the Poles initiated French and British military intelligence representatives into their Enigma-decryption techniques and equipment. The Polish demonstrations spawned the later British continuation and effort to crack the Nazi Enigma Machines. During the war, British cryptologists decrypted a vast number of messages enciphered on Enigma. The intelligence gleaned from this source, codenamed “Ultra” by the British, was a substantial aid to the Allied war effort.
Cryptanalysis of the Enigma ciphering system enabled the western Allies in World War II to read substantial amounts of Morse-coded radio communications of the Axis powers that had been enciphered using Enigma machines. This yielded military intelligence which, along with that from other decrypted Axis radio and teleprinter transmissions, was given the codename Ultra. This was considered by Dwight D. Eisenhower to have been “decisive” to the Allied victory.
It was German procedural flaws, operator mistakes, failure to systematically introduce changes in encipherment procedures, and Allied capture of key tables and hardware that, during the war, enabled Allied cryptologists to succeed and “turned the tide” in the Allies’ favour. The effort to break the Enigma was not disclosed until the 1970s. Since then, interest in the Enigma machine has grown. Enigmas are on public display in museums around the world, and several are in the hands of private collectors and computer history enthusiasts.
Bletchley Park and Alan Turing
The British Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park built up an extensive cryptanalytic capability. Alan Turing, a Cambridge University mathematician and logician, provided much of the original thinking that led to the design of the cryptanalytical machines that were instrumental in breaking the Enigma.
A bombe was an electro-mechanical device used by Polish and British cryptologists to help decipher German Enigma-machine-encrypted secret messages during World War II. The British bombe was an electromechanical device designed by Alan Turing soon after he arrived at Bletchley Park in 1939.
By 1945, almost all German Enigma traffic could be decrypted within a day or two, yet the Germans remained confident of its security. The Nazis openly discussed their plans and movements, handing the Allies huge amounts of information. After the war, the allies learnt that the German cryptographers, knew Enigma was not unbreakable, but they could not imagine that the allies could have mustered all the resources in time to actually do it. The German Command had been advised that a cryptanalytic attack was the least likely of all security problems. The Nazis had underestimated their enemy.
- Name: Enigma Machine
- Date: 1940 – 1945
- Period: World War II
- Museum: Spy Museum Berlin
- How much did the cracking of the Enigma communications actually help the Allies win WWII?
- How much do you know about Alan Turing?
Spy Museum Berlin
Explore Berlin’s Museums
- The Pergamon Museum
- Neues Museum
- Alte Nationalgalerie – National Gallery (Berlin)
- Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
- Spy Museum Berlin
Alan Turing Quotes
“Unless in communicating with it one says exactly what one means, trouble is bound to result.”
“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
“A very large part of space-time must be investigated if reliable results are to be obtained.”
The original question, ‘Can machines think?’ I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion.
“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
“A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive a human into believing that it was human.”
“The idea behind digital computers may be explained by saying that these machines are intended to carry out any operations which could be done by a human computer.”
“Science is a differential equation. Religion is a boundary condition.”
“Mathematical reasoning may be regarded rather schematically as the exercise of a combination of two facilities, which we may call intuition and ingenuity.”
“I have had a dream indicating rather clearly that I am on the way to being hetero, though I don’t accept it with much enthusiasm either awake or in the dreams.”
“I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard.”
“I want a permanent relationship, and I might feel inclined to reject anything which of its nature could not be permanent.”
“Do you know why people like violence? It is because it feels good. Humans find violence deeply satisfying. But remove the satisfaction, and the act becomes hollow.”
“Machines take me by surprise with great frequency.”
“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”
– Alan Turing
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