Rotor Machines

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  • Topic: Rotor machine, Enigma machine, Cryptography
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  • Published : August 3, 2008
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Rotor machine
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A series of three rotors from an Enigma machine, used by Germany during World War II In cryptography, a rotor machine is an electro-mechanical device used for encrypting and decrypting secret messages. Rotor machines were the cryptographic state-of-the-art for a brief but prominent period of history; they were in widespread use in the 1930s–1950s. The most famous example is the Enigma machine. The primary component is a set of rotors, also termed wheels or drums, which are rotating disks with an array of electrical contacts on either side. The wiring between the contacts implements a fixed substitution of letters, scrambling them in some complex fashion. On its own, this would offer little security; however, after encrypting each letter, the rotors advance positions, changing the substitution. By this means, a rotor machine produces a complex polyalphabetic substitution cipher. Contents

[hide]
1 Background
2 Mechanization
3 History
o3.1 Invention
o3.2 The Enigma machine
o3.3 Various machines
4 List of rotor machines
5 References
6 External links

[edit] Background

40-point rotors from a machine made by Tatjana van Vark
In classical cryptography, one of the earliest encryption methods was the simple substitution cipher, where letters in a message were systematically replaced using some secret scheme. Monoalphabetic substitution ciphers used only a single replacement scheme — sometimes termed an "alphabet"; this could be easily broken, for example, by using frequency analysis. Somewhat more secure were schemes involving multiple alphabets, polyalphabetic ciphers. Because such schemes were implemented by hand, only a handful of different alphabets could be used; anything more complex would be impractical. However, using only a few alphabets left the ciphers vulnerable to attack. The invention of rotor machines mechanised polyalphabetic encryption, providing a practical way to use a much larger number of alphabets. The earliest cryptanalytic technique was frequency analysis, in which letter patterns unique to every language could be used to discover information about the substitution alphabet(s) in use in a monoalphabetic substitution cipher. For instance, in English, the plaintext letters E, T, A, O, I, N and S, are usually easy to identify in ciphertext on the basis that since they are very frequent (see ETAOIN SHRDLU), their corresponding ciphertext letters will also be as frequent. In addition, bigram combinations like NG, ST and others are also very frequent, while others are rare indeed (Q followed by anything other than U for instance). The simplest frequency analysis relies on one ciphertext letter always being substituted for a plaintext letter in the cipher: if this is not the case, deciphering the message is more difficult. For many years, cryptographers attempted to hide the telltale frequencies by using several different substitutions for common letters, but this technique was unable to fully hide patterns in the substitutions for plaintext letters. Such schemes were being widely broken by the 1500s. In the mid-1400s, a new technique was invented by Alberti, now known generally as polyalphabetic ciphers, which recognised the virtue of using more than a single substitution alphabet; he also invented a simple technique for "creating" a multitude of substitution patterns for use in a message. Two parties exchanged a small amount of information (referred to as the key) and used it to create many substitution alphabets, and so many different substitutions for each plaintext letter over the course of a single plaintext. The idea is simple and effective, but proved more difficult to use than might have been expected. Many ciphers were only partial implementations of Alberti's, and so were easier to break than they might have been (e.g. the Vigenère cipher)....
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