VCF East: Enigma Machines In The Flesh

At the end of World War II, the Germans ordered all Enigma cipher machines destroyed. Around the same time, Churchill ordered all Enigma cipher machines destroyed. Add a few decades, neglect the efforts of Polish codebreakers, and make a movie about Alan Turing and an offensively historically incorrect love interest, and you have a mystique around these rare, innovative cipher machine.

At the Vintage Computer Festival East, I was privy to what is probably the largest collection of Enigma machines on the planet. The exhibit comes from [Tom] and [Dan Perera] of Enigma Museum. Right now, they’re they only place where you can go out and simply buy a real, wartime Enigma machine. The price? Well, there is a pair of million-dollar Apple I boards at VCF. The Enigmas go for about a fifth of an Apple I.

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Enigma Machine Wristwatch

We don’t find smartwatches to be supremely usable yet. This one sets a definition for usefulness. The Enigma machine is of course the cipher process used by the Germans during World War II. This Enigma Machine wristwatch is not only functional, but the appearance is modelled after that of the original machine. With the speckled gray/black case and the Enigma badge branding [Asciimation] has done a fine job of mimicking the original feel.

Driving the machine is an Arduino Pro Mini. We’ve seen Arduino Enigma Machines in the past so it’s not surprising to see it again here. The user interface consists of an OLED display at 128×64 resolution, three buttons, with a charging port to the right and on/off switch on the left.

The device is demonstrated after the break. Quite a bit of button presses are used to set up each of the three encoder wheels. But that’s hardly avoidable when you’re not committing to a full keyboard. We’re pretty impressed by the functionality of [Asciimation’s] interface considering it’s hardware simplicity.

This seems perfect for kids that are proving to have an interest in engineering. They learn about ciphers, embedded programming, and mechanical design and crafting (this is a hand-sewn leather wristband). Of course if you build one and start wearing it into the office we won’t judge.

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The Solution to the 10th Anniversary Code

A few weeks ago, [1o57], a.k.a. [Ryan Clarke] gave a talk about puzzles, DEFCON, and turning crypto puzzles into an art form at our 10th anniversary party. Ever the trickster, [1o57] included a crypto challenge in his talk, and a few days after our little shindig, nobody had yet solved the puzzle. Finally, someone bothered to sit down and figure it out. We don’t know what [tahnok] won, but as [1o57] said, solving it is its own reward.

Some of the slides in the presentation had a few characters sitting off to the side for no apparent reason. [tahnok] put these together and came up with:


In cases like this, you might try a Caesar cipher, or just shifting characters to the left or right a certain number of places. Since [1o57] noted this was the tenth anniversary of Hackaday, [tahnok] tried that first:


It doesn’t look like much, but that’s only because the string is backwards. Tricky, tricky. tricky. With instructions to send a codeword to an email address, [tahnok] now needed to find a code word. There was one picture [1o57] put up on twitter that was still an unsolved part of the puzzle:


With no idea what these little stickmen are, he scoured google with variants of ‘stickmen code’ and ‘semaphore’ until he hit upon the Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Dancing Men. It’s a simple substitution cypher, translated to, “codeword psychobilly ciphers”

And that’s the entire puzzle. As far as we know, this took about a month to solve, and compared to the DEFCON challenges, was fairly simple. [1o57] will probably chime in down in the comments to tell everyone how many people have picked up on the clues and sent an email.

GSM Cracked

[Karsten Nohl], with a group of security researchers has broken the A5/1 Stream Cipher behind GSM. Their project web site discusses their work and provides slides(pdf) presented at 26C3. A5/1 has had known vulnerabilities for some time now and is scheduled to be phased out for the newer KASUMI or A5/3 block cipher. This should be an interesting time in the cell phone business.

Thanks to [Tyco] and [MashupMark] for pointing us to this story.