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Who really broke Enigma?

October 16, 2012
at 8:28 am PST

Some of the best conversations happen in private exchanges and I often wish we could all benefit more broadly.  This most recent conversation was instructive in and of itself but it also pointed out a level of transparency both Jimmy Ray and I prefer.  So hopefully it goes to say -- we welcome your input! We certainly don’t get it right all the time!

Episode 119 featured Next Generation encryption and we mistakenly attributed Great Britain with breaking Enigma. One of our Cisco fans from Warsaw, Bartlomiej (Bartek) Michalowski, sent us a note.

Bartek: 

I’ve just seen your TechWiseTV 119: Next Generation Encryption. Great video. Just one comment. Enigma was broken by Poles not Brits. In December 1932, the Polish Cipher Bureau first broke Germany’s military Enigma ciphers. Five weeks before the outbreak of World War II, on 25 July 1939, in Warsaw, they presented their Enigma-decryption techniques and equipment to French and British military intelligence. More can be found on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enigma_machine .

Jimmy Ray:

Good call!! I have certainly done Poland a disservice by not being more clear. When I think of Enigma, I always think of the 60 turn devices. The Polish certainly worked hard and kept cracking various versions of Enigma. If it wasn’t for 1939, I believe the world would have been saying’ “Who’s Alan Turing?” The Allies can be grateful they passed that info along to the Brits in Bletchley Park which gave them a HUGE head start cracking the newer Enigma machines. Either way, you are correct. I should have gave the initial credit to the Polish Math Dudes that really made it possible for sure.

 Thank you for calling me on this; I will post something immediately to make sure that at least from a TechWiseTV perspective; Poland deserves the credit for this accomplishment!!

 

David McGrew (our guest expert for NGE)

Yes, the major breakthrough in the analysis of Enigma was Rejewski’s use of group theory to figure out some of the internals of the German military machines.  This was a brilliant achievement.  …  I remember reading about Rejewski’s work twenty years ago, I think in David Kahn’s Codebreakers book.   But it might have been somewhere else.   It is a great story about a math geek making a huge difference in the world :-)

 

Bartek:

Thank you for fast reaction. Enigma true story was forgotten  for many years, especially that for Poland the II WW really ended in 1989 with the collapse of the communism.

 I ‘m looking forward for next TechWiseTV.

 Best regards from EMEAR region this time

 

 

 

Thought this was worth sharing, hope it was instructive -- let us know when you catch something!

 

Robb

 

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1 Comments.


  1. The respect and admiration I have for you guys has just increased. It’s rare to see people admit they were wrong. You could have just let it slide and not said a thing but you didn’t. You gave credit where credit was due.

    Robb, you and Jimmy Ray have definitely increased your status as “Geeks you can trust!”

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