History of Cryptography - World War II Cryptography

World War II Cryptography

By World War II, mechanical and electromechanical cipher machines were in wide use, although—where such machines were impractical—manual systems continued in use. Great advances were made in both cipher design and cryptanalysis, all in secrecy. Information about this period has begun to be declassified as the official British 50-year secrecy period has come to an end, as US archives have slowly opened, and as assorted memoirs and articles have appeared.

The Germans made heavy use, in several variants, of an electromechanical rotor machine known as Enigma. Mathematician Marian Rejewski, at Poland's Cipher Bureau, in December 1932 deduced the detailed structure of the German Army Enigma, using mathematics and limited documentation supplied by Captain Gustave Bertrand of French military intelligence. This was the greatest breakthrough in cryptanalysis in a thousand years and more, according to historian David Kahn. Rejewski and his mathematical Cipher Bureau colleagues, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski, continued reading Enigma and keeping pace with the evolution of the German Army machine's components and encipherment procedures. As the Poles' resources became strained by the changes being introduced by the Germans, and as war loomed, the Cipher Bureau, on the Polish General Staff's instructions, on 25 July 1939, at Warsaw, initiated French and British intelligence representatives into the secrets of Enigma decryption.

Soon after the Invasion of Poland by Germany on 1 September 1939, key Cipher Bureau personnel were evacuated southeastward; on 17 September, as the Soviet Union attacked Poland from the East, they crossed into Romania. From there they reached Paris, France; at PC Bruno, near Paris, they continued breaking Enigma, collaborating with British cryptologists at Bletchley Park as the British got up to speed on breaking Enigma. In due course, the British cryptographers - whose ranks included many chess masters and mathematics dons such as Gordon Welchman, Max Newman, and Alan Turing (the conceptual founder of modern computing) - substantially advanced the scale and technology of Enigma decryption.

German code breaking in World War II also had some success, most importanlty by breaking the Naval Cipher No. 3. This enabled them to track and sink Atlantic convoys. It was only Ultra intelligence that finally persuaded the admiralty to change their codes in June 1943. This is surprising given the success of the British Room 40 code breakers in the previous world war.

At the end of the War, on 19 April 1945, Britain's top military officers were told that they could never reveal that the German Enigma cipher had been broken because it would give the defeated enemy the chance to say they "were not well and fairly beaten".

US Navy cryptographers (with cooperation from British and Dutch cryptographers after 1940) broke into several Japanese Navy crypto systems. The break into one of them, JN-25, famously led to the US victory in the Battle of Midway; and to the publication of that fact in the Chicago Tribune shortly after the battle, though the Japanese seem not to have noticed for they kept using the JN-25 system. A US Army group, the SIS, managed to break the highest security Japanese diplomatic cipher system (an electromechanical 'stepping switch' machine called Purple by the Americans) even before WWII began. The Americans referred to the intelligence resulting from cryptanalysis, perhaps especially that from the Purple machine, as 'Magic'. The British eventually settled on 'Ultra' for intelligence resulting from cryptanalysis, particularly that from message traffic protected by the various Enigmas. An earlier British term for Ultra had been 'Boniface' in an attempt to suggest, if betrayed, that it might have an individual agent as a source.

The German military also deployed several mechanical attempts at a one-time pad. Bletchley Park called them the Fish ciphers, and Max Newman and colleagues designed and deployed the Heath Robinson, and then the world's first programmable digital electronic computer, the Colossus, to help with their cryptanalysis. The German Foreign Office began to use the one-time pad in 1919; some of this traffic was read in WWII partly as the result of recovery of some key material in South America that was discarded without sufficient care by a German courier.

The Japanese Foreign Office used a locally developed electrical stepping switch based system (called Purple by the US), and also had used several similar machines for attaches in some Japanese embassies. One of these was called the 'M-machine' by the US, another was referred to as 'Red'. All were broken, to one degree or another, by the Allies.

Allied cipher machines used in WWII included the British TypeX and the American SIGABA; both were electromechanical rotor designs similar in spirit to the Enigma, albeit with major improvements. Neither is known to have been broken by anyone during the War. The Poles used the Lacida machine, but its security was found to be less than intended (by Polish Army cryptographers in the UK), and its use was discontinued. US troops in the field used the M-209 and the still less secure M-94 family machines. British SOE agents initially used 'poem ciphers' (memorized poems were the encryption/decryption keys), but later in the War, they began to switch to one-time pads.

The VIC cipher (used at least until 1957 in connection with Rudolf Abel's NY spy ring) was a very complex hand cipher, and is claimed to be the most complicated known to have been used by the Soviets, according to David Kahn in Kahn on Codes. For the decrypting of Soviet ciphers (particularly when one-time pads were reused), see Venona project.

Read more about this topic:  History Of Cryptography

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