During World war 2 the Germans used the Enigma system to encrypt secret messages that they believed couldn’t be cracked. It was a really good system because it used 159 million million million (159,000,000,000,000,000,000) different combinations of settings to encrypt a message – pretty much beyond human capability of the time (there were no computers in those days). Or so the Germans thought.
The Poles cracked early versions of Enigma, but as the country was about to be overrun by Nazis they handed all their work over to the British for further development to be performed on cracking the newer and more secure versions of Engima. A top-secret establishment was created at Bletchley Park especially for the job and you can visit it today and see real Enigma machines and learn of the immense mental and physical effort that was put in to reading German signals; an effort that, it is said, saved millions of lives and shortened the war by years.
The work of Bletchley Park remained a secret right up until 1974 with the publication of F. W. Winterbotham’s The Ultra Secret.
The work of Bletchley Park moved after the end of the war to Cheltenham and became known as Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
Build your own un-crackable Enigma machine with a Pringles Tin
Come along to technoJAM on the 9th September and you can build your very own Engima machine using nothing more than an empty Pringles can; please bring your own if possible as we have limited supplies.
You will be able to encrypt and decrypt messages using the very same code used by the Germans. If you were to use four rotors to encrypt your message then it could be cracked “within a few months, using thousands of PCs performing the algorithm on idle time, each one covering a certain part of the keyspace”, according to George Lasry (Staff Software Engineer at Google, Codebreaker).
Have a go at other codes and ciphers
We’ll also be running sessions on simpler codes and ciphers throughout the day that will enable you to send and receive secret messages.