I very rarely cover Enigma machines on Cipher Mysteries, mainly because I didn’t think there were many open cipher-related mysteries to do with it (not unless you include the question of why US film-makers apparently feel so compelled to mash up history every time they include Enigmas on camera.).

But it turns out that the two men who (apparently) had the patents for the Enigma design in the 1920s were not the real inventors of the device at all: in fact, the clever principles of modern rotor cryptography were invented by two Dutch naval officers during the First World War. However, when the Dutch Navy refused to proceed with bringing their design to practice, events took a slightly strange turn…

That story – and lots, lots more about Enigma, plus a few early crypto machines – is in the following splendid Google Tech Talk by well-known (and very affable) crypto collector Ralph Simpson, with captions (which you can turn off with the keyboard-like icon just to the left of the settings icon). It’s not often I recommend a 1hr 16min YouTube video, but this is excellent, well worth putting an hour and a bit of your time aside for. Enjoy! 🙂

(If the above embedded video fails to appear for you, here’s a direct link to it instead.)

PS: at 6:49, Ralph holds up a commercial cryptography book which he describes as being from “1988”, but it is of course actually from 1888… just so you know! 😉

5 thoughts on “Ralph Simpson’s splendid Google Tech Talk on the History of Enigma Machines…

  1. xplor on June 28, 2014 at 2:43 am said:

    Saw the three rotor machine at a NRO open house. Strange the British did not share more with the United States and Canadians.

  2. That was a captivating presentation – i’ve watched a few of these tech talks and they’re usually very interesting.

    I wonder if it was a common practice at the time to circulate meaningless cipher messages in an attempt to waste and discourage the enemy’s efforts.

    For radio communications they could also break up messages across separate transmissions, interleaved.

    It seems that message interception wasn’t really a problem back then.

  3. Gordon on June 29, 2014 at 9:30 am said:

    Job, This might be relevant to your comments on apparently meaningless messages and others broken into separate transmissions. My understanding is that it has to do with keeping up a steady level of traffic much of which could be false. This was done to enable either side to ‘hide’ spikes in traffic which would be an indicator of an impending action of some kind.

  4. Thanks for the kind reviews of my Google Tech Talk.

    There is an interesting story on these meaningless messages that were sent to hide spikes in traffic or to confuse the cryptoanalysts. There was a case where this strategy backfired.

    One message was rather long and did not contain the letter “L”. Since the Enigma can not encipher a letter to itself, the cryptoanalyst figured out the message was a fake message, made entirely of the letter “L”. This allowed the day’s settings to be quickly deduced and all messages to be read.

  5. Ralph: it was my pleasure to review it, you gave a very enjoyable talk. 🙂

    I also like your L-less plaintext decipherent story, that was fun (though I presume you know there are novels written entirely without the letter ‘e’?).

    Jessie Dunlop once mentioned having to encipher page after page of Shakespeare in the run-up to D-Day (using a Typex machine) to block the air channels, and presumably also to prevent any obvious spike in traffic from giving the game away that something big was up. Her reminiscences are here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/05/a2631205.shtml

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