An Arduino And An Enigma All Rolled Into One

This hacker has been wanting to design an Enigma machine simulator for a while, but didn’t take the leap until they realized there was a compact Arduino with a surplus of I/O.

The logs go through all sort of variations on the machine. Everything from a plug board variation similar to the original to a 16 segment LED tester are covered. In one of the posts you can even see it decode a real U-Boat message. 

The earlier revisions are housed in very attractive laser cut cases but the latest designs employ an even more elegant casing solution. The simulator uses 16 segment displays and momentary push buttons for the keys. At its core is a 2560 Pro mini. The write-up contains a lot of detail about the code behind the Enigma and is interesting to read.  Interestingly, the PCB was designed in Fritzing, the EDA software many love to hate.

We love the craftsmanship and attention going into this project and can see it turning into a very appealing kit as it goes through its design cycles.

John McMaster Explains Crypto Ignition Phone Keys And How To Reproduce Them

When you’re a nation state, secure communications are key to protecting your sovereignty and keeping your best laid plans under wraps. For the USA, this requirement led to the development of a series of secure telephony networks over the years. John McMaster found himself interested in investigating the workings of the STU-III secure telephone, and set out to replicate the secure keys used with this system.

An encryption key in a very physical, real sense, the Crypto Igntion Key was used with the STU-III to secure phone calls across many US government operations. The key contains a 64KB EEPROM that holds the cryptographic data.

[John] had a particular affinity for the STU-III for its method of encrypting phone calls. A physical device known as a Crypto Ignition Key had to be inserted into the telephone, and turned with a satisfying clunk to enable encryption. This physical key contains digital encryption keys that, in combination with those in the telephone, are used to encrypt the call. The tactile interface gives very clear feedback to the user about securing the communication channel. Wishing to learn more, John began to research the system further and attempted to source some hardware to tinker with.

As John explains in his Hackaday Superconference talk embeded below, he was able to source a civilian-model STU-III handset but the keys proved difficult to find. As carriers of encryption keys, it’s likely that most were destroyed as per security protocol when reaching their expiry date. However, after laying his hands on a broken key, he was able to create a CAD model and produce a mechanically compatible prototype that would fit in the slot and turn correctly.

Continue reading “John McMaster Explains Crypto Ignition Phone Keys And How To Reproduce Them”

Espionage On Display As GCHQ Hosts A Temporary Exhibit

At the top of the British electronic intelligence agency is the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a very public entity whose circular building can easily be found by any inquisitive soul prepared to drive just off the A40 in Cheltenham which is about two hours west of London. But due to the nature of its work it is also one of the most secretive of UK agencies, from which very little public information is released. With over a century of history behind it and with some truly groundbreaking inventions under its belt it is rumoured to maintain a clandestine technology museum that would rewrite a few history books and no doubt fascinate the Hackaday readership.

Perhaps the most famous of all its secrets was the wartime Colossus, the first all-electronic stored program digital computer, which took an unauthorised book in the 1970s to bring to public attention. Otherwise its historical artifacts have been tantalisingly out-of-reach, hinted at but never shown.

A temporary exhibition at the Science Museum in London then should be a must-visit for anyone with an interest in clandestine technology. Top Secret: From ciphers to cyber security occupies the basement gallery, and includes among other exhibits a fascinating selection of artifacts from the Government agency. On a trip to London I met up with a friend, and we went along to take a look.

Continue reading “Espionage On Display As GCHQ Hosts A Temporary Exhibit”

Understanding Elliptic Curve Cryptography And Embedded Security

We all know the usual jokes about the ‘S’ in ‘IoT’ standing for ‘Security’. It’s hardly a secret that security in embedded, networked devices (‘IoT devices’) is all too often a last-minute task that gets left to whichever intern was unfortunate enough to walk first into the office that day. Inspired by this situation, All About Circuits is publishing a series of articles on embedded security, with a strong focus on network security.

In addition to the primer article, so far they have covered the Diffie-Hellman exchange (using prime numbers, exponentiation and modular arithmetic) and the evolution of this exchange using elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) which prevents anyone from brute-forcing the key. Barring any quantum computers, naturally. All three articles should be understandable by anyone, with a simple, step-by-step format.

The upcoming articles will cover implementing security on microcontrollers specifically.  For those who cannot wait to learn more, Wikipedia has a number of articles on the topic of Elliptic Curve Cryptography (comparing it to the more older and still very common RSA encryption) specifically, as well as the Elliptic-Curve Diffie-Hellman key agreement protocol as discussed in the All About Circuits article.

A detail of note here is that the hardest problem in secure communications isn’t to keep the communications going, but to securely exchange the keys in the first place. That’s why a much much computationally expensive key exchange scheme using an asymmetric (or public-key) cryptography scheme  is generally used to set up the second part of the communications, which would use a much faster symmetric-key cryptography scheme, where both parties have the means to decode and encode messages using the same private key.

All the math aside, one does have to wonder about how one might denote ‘secure’ IoT. Somehow ‘SIoT’ doesn’t feel very catchy.

MIT Cryptographers Are No Match For A Determined Belgian

Twenty years ago, a cryptographic puzzle was included in the construction of a building on the MIT campus. The structure that houses what is now MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) includes a time capsule designed by the building’s architect, [Frank Gehry]. It contains artifacts related to the history of computing, and was meant to be opened whenever someone solved a cryptographic puzzle, or after 35 years had elapsed.

The puzzle was not expected to be solved early, but [Bernard Fabrot], a developer in Belgium, has managed it using not a supercomputer but a run-of-the-mill Intel i7 processor. The capsule will be opened later in May.

The famous cryptographer, [Ronald Rivest], put together what we now know is a deceptively simple challenge. It involves a successive squaring operation, and since it is inherently sequential there is no possibility of using parallel computing techniques to take any shortcuts. [Fabrot] used the GNU Multiple Precision Arithmetic Library in his code, and took over 3 years of computing time to solve it. Meanwhile another team is using an FPGA and are expecting a solution in months, though have been pipped to the post by the Belgian.

The original specification document is a fascinating read, for both the details of the puzzle itself and for [Rivest]’s predictions as to the then future direction of computing power. He expected the puzzle would take the full 35 years to solve and that there would be 10Ghz processors by 2012 when Moore’s Law would begin to tail off, but he is reported as saying that he underestimated the corresponding advances in software.

Header image: Ray and Maria Stata Center, Tafyrn (CC BY 3.0)

Compiling NodeMCU For The ESP32 With Support For Public-Private Key Encryption

When I began programming microcontrollers in 2003, I had picked up the Atmel STK-500 and learned assembler for their ATtiny and ATmega lines. At the time I thought it was great – the emulator and development boards were good, and I could add a microcontroller permanently to a project for a dollar. Then the ESP8266 came out.

I was pretty blown away by its features, switched platforms, except for timing-sensitive applications, and it’s been my chip of choice for a few years. A short while ago, a friend gave me an ESP32, the much faster, dual core version of the ESP8266. As I rarely used much of the computing power on the ESP8266, none of the features looked like game changers, and it remained a ‘desk ornament’ for a while.

About seven weeks ago, support for the libSodium Elliptic Curve Cryptography library was added. Cryptography is not the strongest feature of IoT devices, and some of the methods I’ve used on the ESP8266 were less than ideal. Being able to more easily perform public-private key encryption would be enough for me to consider switching hardware for some projects.

However, my preferred automated build tool for NodeMCU wasn’t available on the ESP32 yet. Compiling the firmware was required – this turned out to be a surprisingly user-friendly experience, so I thought I’d share it with you. If I had known it would be so quick, this chip wouldn’t have sat on my desk unused quite so long!  Continue reading “Compiling NodeMCU For The ESP32 With Support For Public-Private Key Encryption”

Friday Hack Chat: All About Crypto

What is crypto? Crypto means ‘hidden’, and it’s meant ‘hidden’ since before the Greek alphabet was written, but don’t let that stop you from arguing. For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about cryptography, a medium of exchange for secrets. If you need confidentiality, integrity, or authenticity, you need cryptography.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be none other than Nick Sayer. Nick is a frequent attendee of the Hackaday meetups and he’s been building gadgets and gizmos and selling them on Tindie for years now. He’s given talks on design for manufacturing. This year, he designed and developed the Orthrus, an appliance that creates a cryptographically secured USB volume from two microSD cards. Basically, it’s like the Captain Planet team, only instead of rings, you need all the SD cards, and instead of Captain Planet, you summon your data.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to sit down with and talk about all things cryptography, including understanding what you need, what you don’t, and picking the correct tools. Items of interest will include:

  • When cryptography is needed
  • Cryptography tools
  • The best practices for cryptography

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Cryptography Hack Chat and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.


Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Friday, November 16th, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.