Put an Arduino Enigma in Your Pocket

The German Enigma device has always been a fascinating gadget for hackers. We’ve seen various replicas and emulators created over the years, and it was recently even the subject of our weekly Hack Chat. But if you think about it it’s not really a surprise; the Enigma has the perfect blend of historical significance and engineering wizardry, with a healthy dash of mystery thrown in. Why do the bad guys always have the coolest toys?

If you’ve ever wanted your own little Enigma replica to explore, [Mark Culross] has put together a project which makes it easier than ever. In fact, it’s so straightforward that some of you reading this post will probably be able to put one together as soon as you’ve read this post from stuff you already have lying around in the parts bin. All you need is an Arduino Uno, an Adafruit 2.8″ TFT Touch Shield, and a penchant for World War II technology.

Thanks to the relatively high-resolution touch screen, [Mark] was able to develop a user interface for his Enigma that really gives you a feel for how the original machine worked. Obviously it’s considerably simplified from the real-world version, but using a stylus to tap the rotors you want to spin or the wires you want plugged in makes for a more immersive experience than many of the previous attempts we’ve seen. With a tap you’re even able to load historical machine configurations, such as how the Enigma aboard the submarine U-262 was configured when the Allies intercepted its encoded messages in 1942.

[Mark] says this project was always about developing the software, and he leaves the actual hardware implementation as an exercise for the user. Just to play around with the software it’s enough to hook up an Arduino and the touch screen, but we’d love to see somebody really take the idea and run with it. Add some batteries, a charging circuit, and put it all in a little wooden box for that authentic Enigma look. Can’t forget that iconic wrinkle finish paint, either.

Over the years, we’ve seen replica Enigma machines in all shapes and sizes. From ones you could mount on your wrist, to full size replicas using modern components. We’ve even seen one variation that you can print out on a couple of sheets of paper. The parade of recreations shows no sign of stopping, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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All Things Enigma Hack Chat

Join us Wednesday at noon Pacific time for the All Things Enigma Hack Chat!

This week’s Hack Chat is a bit of a departure for us because our host, Simon Jansen, has tackled so many interesting projects that it’s hard to settle on one topic. Simon is a multidisciplinary hacker whose interests run the gamut from building an ammo-can Apple ][ to a literal steampunk Rickroller. How about a Bender Brewer? Or a MAME in a TARDIS? Or perhaps making an old phone play music to restore a car by? Oh, and remember that awesome ASCII animation of Star Wars: Episode IV? That was Simon.

So, a little hard to choose a topic, but we asked Simon to talk a bit about his recent Enigma watches. He has managed to put an electronic emulation of the Enigma cypher machine from World War II into both a wristwatch and, more recently, a pocket watch. They’re both gorgeous builds that required a raft of skills to complete. We’ll start there and see where the conversation takes us!

Please join us for this Hack Chat, where we’ll discuss:

  • Where the fascination with Enigma came from;
  • Tools, techniques, and shop setup;
  • Melding multiple, disparate skill sets; and
  • What sorts of new projects might we see soon?

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

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 27, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones have 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 Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

An Arduino Wrapped In An OLED Wrapped Inside An Enigma Pocket Watch

A pocket watch, tucked into a waistcoat pocket and trailing a long chain, is a retro-hip accessory. A pocket watch gutted of its mechanical innards and updated as a smart appliance might be a horological abomination, but would still be a cool hack. A pocket watch converted to a digital Enigma machine is in a class all by itself.

[Simon] admits that he has a thing for pocket timepieces, having a sizable collection of old and not-so-old watches, some that even serve for everyday carry. Trouble is, they eventually break, and qualified watchmakers are getting hard to come by. So refitting defunct watches has become a hobby for him, and this example is a doozy. It uses an Enigma emulator running on an Arduino, similar to one that he stuffed into a somewhat oversized wristwatch a few years ago. Fitting it into a pocket watch case required a bit of finagling, including a 0.5-mm thick main PCB that flexes a bit to fit the contours of the case. A small OLED screen peeks through the front bezel, which is done up in an attractive black crinkle finish with brass buttons for a nice retro look. There’s even an acid-etched brass badge on the front cover with his special logo, complete with a profile of the original Enigma rotors.

Very impressive workmanship, and we don’t even care that it doesn’t tell time. Need a little background on the original Enigma? [Steve Dufresne] did a great job going through the basics a while back.

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The Enigma Enigma: How The Enigma Machine Worked

To many, the Enigma machine is an enigma. But it’s really quite simple. The following is a step-by-step explanation of how it works, from the basics to the full machine.

Possibly the greatest dedicated cipher machine in human history the Enigma machine is a typewriter-sized machine, with keyboard included, that the Germans used to encrypt and decrypt messages during World War II. It’s also one of the machines that the Polish Cipher Bureau and those at Britain’s Bletchley Park figured out how to decipher, or break. Most recently the story of how it was broken was the topic of the movie The Imitation Game.

Let’s start with the basics.

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Decoding Enigma Using A Neural Network

[Sam Greydanus] created a neural network that can encode and decode messages just as Enigma did. For those who don’t know, the Enigma machine was most famously used by the Germans during World War II to encrypt and decrypt messages. Give the neural network some encrypted text, called the ciphertext, along with the three-letter key that was used to encrypt the text, and the network predicts what the original text, or plaintext, was with around 96-97% accuracy.

The type of neural network he used was a Long Short Term Memory (LSTM ) network, a type of Recurrent Neural Network (RNN) that we talked about in our article covering many of the different types of neural networks developed over the years. RNNs are Turing-complete, meaning they can approximate any function. [Sam] noticed the irony in this, namely that Alan Turing both came up with the concept of Turing-completeness as well as played a big part in breaking the Enigma used in World War II.

How did [Sam] do it?

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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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3D Print An Enigma Machine That’s Close To The Real Thing

The Enigma machine as used by the German military during World War Two exerts a curious fascination among our community of hardware hackers and makers. Perhaps it is the mechanical complexity of the machine itself, or maybe the tale of how its encoded messages were decrypted by Allied codebreakers that contributes to this interest, but whatever it is we’ve seen a succession of Enigma-related projects over the years that shows no sign of abating.

The latest Enigma project to come our way is a particularly nice one from a group of first year students at CentraleSupélec Rennes, in Northwestern France. Their Réplique Enigma is a fully mechanical Enigma replica using 3D printing techniques, and unlike so many replicas which use modern electronics it has a set of rotors just like those you would have found in the original. The rotors themselves have a 3D-printed plastic shell which houses brass contacts and the associated writing, while the keyboard and lamp board are both made from plywood. Rather than trying to replicate the original switches from the keyboard they are using modern microswitches, however the keys themselves are upright posts that resemble the original. An AZERTY layout may not have been present on the real Enigma machines, but lends a pleasing twist to the build.

It’s worth browsing all the pages for this build, as the front page does not necessarily capture the whole build. The rotors set this Enigma apart from many of the replicas we’ve featured in the past, so you may find it interesting to take a look and make a few comparisons.