UK intelligence agency GCHQ has celebrated 100 years in the code breaking business by releasing emulators for three different World War II era cipher machines, which can be used through its web-based education encryption app Codechef.
That’s a lot to take in at once, I realise. I wasn’t even aware GCHQ had an educational encryption app until I heard about the emulators via a tweet from the spooks themselves.
If you’re as into spy nonsense as I am, the story of Enigma (and Bombe and Typex, allied inventions that grew out of codebreaking efforts into the Enigma) is fascinating. Enigma machines were used by the German military to encrypt and decrypt messages during WW2.
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Originally, the device was sold just after World War 1 as a way for people to protect commercial secrets. The German military got involved, seeing the potential for skullduggery, and by 1932 there were strict controls in place to get hold of one.
As World War II started heating up, Polish codebreakers turned their attention to the Enigma as a way of foiling the German forces that were massing at their borders and becoming increasingly aggressive. Just before Germany invaded, Poland gave the British military an Enigma machine, and Britain got involved in trying to crack the Enigma at Bletchley Park. This led to Bombe, a collaboration between Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, which could work out Enigma key settings to crack the code.
Once the code was cracked, the British-made cypher machine the Typex was updated so it was compatible with the Enigma and could manually decode machines encoded with an Enigma.
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These efforts by the bods at Bletchley Park had a huge impact on the outcome of World War II. and now to commemorate all of this,GCHQ has unleashed emulators for all three machines. Considering only around 100,000 Enigma’s were ever made, this could be a rare chance to try your hands at World War 2 vintage codebreaking.
GCHQ aren’t the first outfit to release emulation for these code machines but with GCHQ being, you know, the code-breaking agency of the UK, it’s hard not to argue for GCHQ’s pedigree. Get involved, crack (or create) some codes, and have some fun.
Want to get busy with codes? Want more spy history storytime? We’re on Twitter at @TrustedReviews