History of Cryptography

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  • Topic: Enigma machine, Cryptography, Substitution cipher
  • Pages : 19 (6313 words )
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  • Published : December 8, 2006
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In the history of cryptography, the Enigma was a portable cipher machine used to encrypt and decrypt secret messages. More precisely, Enigma was a family of related electro-mechanical rotor machines — comprising a variety of different models.

The Enigma was used commercially from the early 1920s on, and was also adopted by the military and governmental services of a number of nations — most famously by Nazi Germany before and during World War II.

The German military model, the Wehrmacht Enigma, is the version most commonly discussed. The machine has gained notoriety because Allied cryptologists were able to decrypt a large number of messages that had been enciphered on the machine. The intelligence gained through this source — codenamed ULTRA — was a significant aid to the Allied war effort. The exact influence of ULTRA is debated, but a typical assessment is that the end of the European war was hastened by two years because of the decryption of German ciphers.

Although the Enigma cipher has cryptographic weaknesses, it was, in practice, only their combination with other significant factors which allowed codebreakers to read messages: mistakes by operators, procedural flaws, and the occasional captured machine or codebook.

Enigma wiring diagram showing the current flow when pressing the 'A' key is encoded to the 'D' lamp, also D yields A, but A never A The scrambling action of the Enigma rotors shown for two consecutive letters — current is passed into set of rotors, around the reflector, and back out through the rotors again. Note: The greyed-out lines represent other possible circuits within each rotor, which are hard-wired to contacts on each rotor. Letter A encrypts differently with consecutive key presses, first to G, and then to C. This is because the right hand rotor has stepped, sending the signal on a completely different route. Enlarge

The scrambling action of the Enigma rotors shown for two consecutive letters — current is passed into set of rotors, around the reflector, and back out through the rotors again. Note: The greyed-out lines represent other possible circuits within each rotor, which are hard-wired to contacts on each rotor. Letter A encrypts differently with consecutive key presses, first to G, and then to C. This is because the right hand rotor has stepped, sending the signal on a completely different route.

Like other rotor machines, the Enigma machine is a combination of mechanical and electrical systems. The mechanical mechanism consists of a keyboard; a set of rotating disks called rotors arranged adjacently along a spindle; and a stepping mechanism to turn one or more of the rotors with each key press. The exact mechanism varies, but the most common form is for the right-hand rotor to step once with every key stroke, and occasionally the motion of neighbouring rotors is triggered. The continual movement of the rotors results in a different cryptographic transformation after each key press.

The mechanical parts act in such a way as to form a varying electrical circuit — the actual encipherment of a letter is performed electrically. When a key is pressed, the circuit is completed; current flows through the various components and ultimately lights one of many lamps, indicating the output letter. For example, when encrypting a message starting ANX..., the operator would first press the A key, and the Z lamp might light; Z would be the first letter of the ciphertext. The operator would then proceed to encipher N in the same fashion, and so on.

To explain the Enigma, we use the wiring diagram on the left. To simplify the example, only four components of each are shown. In reality, there are 26 lamps, keys, plugs and wirings inside the rotors. The current flows from the battery (1) through the depressed bi-directional letter-switch (2) to the plugboard (3). The plugboard allows rewiring the connections between keyboard (2) and fixed entry wheel (4). Next, the current proceeds...
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