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16 November 2007

Living intelligence history through hobbyist cryptanalysis

Following up with the latest in the recent stream of news regarding the ever so eccentric world of code breaking, we are both impressed and amused with the effort at Bletchly Park to recreate the machines that automated much of the attacks against German cryptosystems – and arguably shortened WWII by an incalculable duration. The reconstructed Colossus will test its mettle once again versus the Lorenz cipher, code named FISH.

The original FISH break came about in no small part due to operator error - which involved retransmission of the same lengthy message twice, using only slightly modified cipher settings. Let us hope that similar fortune favours the boffins of Station X once again.

Given that the recreated test also involves a comparison against a modern virtual emulation of the Colossus system, we cannot help but wonder what the results might be if a modern botnet-based cryptanalytic attack was to be added to the race? To be fair, we suppose a virtual analogue of the Y Service intercept system would also have to be crafted – perhaps paired with a software defined radio link or a TCP/IP intercept capability of some flavour. Of course, we would rather prefer the pretty young female clerks that used to operate the radio sets...

h/t Futurismic


The rebuilt Colossus worked as expected, and achieved a successful break of the encrypted transmissions in a little over three hours. A modern computer analogue did nonetheless manage a successful break faster. Joachim Scheuth, a German cryptologic hobbyist, is to collect the first round of drinks at Bletchley.

However, the exercise did demonstrate the sheer difficulty of SIGINT – particularly in the interception of the weak radio signals of the day using contemporaneous equipment. Something to ponder in this age of far more sensitive systems, and far more elevated expecations.

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