Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Long before Email, there was Enigma

The Enigma is one of the world’s best known cipher machine, and today I had the opportunity to type one that’s 64 years old.

Designed to encrypt messages during wartime, the Enigma used a plugboard with cables and involved pressing keys with an incredible number of possible key settings and machine configurations.

It also had three rotors which wired 26 input contact points to 26 output contact points on alternate faces of a disc and 26 serrations around the edge of the rotors to denote the initial rotation of the rotors.

With 26 dual-holed sockets on the front panel of Enigma, and the plugboard cable to make a connection between any pair of letters, cryptographers had the ability to create codes once thought impossible to break. The astonishing number of possible configurations led to the machine’s success in WWII battle strategies.

The unit in these photos was on display at the Joint Statistical Marketing Conference in Washington D.C., on loan from the National Security Agency.