An Enigmatic Tale

Listed on September 27, 2013 in Blogs!

1944 Enigma MachineIt must be a first for Dillington but I have just been given a demonstration of the workings of a genuine 1944 Enigma machine. It belongs to Dr Mark Baldwin who is here teaching a course on World War Two secret operations. The complexity lay not just in the machine itself – which is extraordinary – but in the fact that unique code books were published every month. On top of this, the setting up of the machine itself was subject to ever-changing encoded messages. The flaw, so it seems, was that all this was done in Morse code and directional detection devices could target the sending and receiving locations. The longer you were exchanging information the more dangerous it was and submarines, in particular, were vulnerable because of their inability to get out of an area quickly whilst submerged. Interestingly, a version of the machine itself was copyrighted immediately after the First World War and the Polish had found a way of replicating it by 1932. Thousands of machines were in use by the Third Reich including the ones used by the police. The critical element were always the code books.

All of this reminds me of our modern day concerns about data security and the encryption technology that allows us to communicate securely on mobile phones, iPads and computers more generally. Yes, we are vulnerable to hackers but by and large things seem to work without intrusion although there seems some worry about what our national security agencies are doing. The link between the technology of today and that of Bletchley Park is, of course, Alan Turing. A brilliant but conflicted man belatedly celebrated with a Blue Plaque in Cambridge. His persecution and suicide reminds us that within this tale of technological wonder we are all flesh and blood in the end.