Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Arduino Enigma Simulator

The Arduino Enigma simulator is a fantastic new simulation, running on the popular open source Arduino UNO platform. The electronics, based on the ATmega168 micro-controller, simulate the WW2 Enigma I, the Kriegsmarine M3, M4 and even incorporates the so-called Uhr switch to modify the plugboard connections.

The interface uses the small Seeed 2.8 Studio touch screen, making it probably the tiniest practical digital Enigma simulation. The maker used an interface structure with top view for operation, open lid for configuration and front view plugboard that resembles the Enigma Sim, providing a realistic hands-on approach.

Complete Enigma simulator with UNO board, touch screen and 9 volt battery

The Arduino Enigma was tested against fully compatible Enigma version and thus offers correct encryption. Its truly a pocket-sized Enigma, running on a small 9 volt battery.

You can find the Arduino Enigma project on tindie and discover additional project details and the required software at the developer's Arduino Enigma Simulator weblog. More information about the Arduino electronics is found on the Arduino website. Since a video can tell more than a thousand words, do check out the Arduino Enigma Demo video:

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cold War Spy John Walker Dies in Prison

John A. Walker
John Anthony Walker died last Thursday, August 28, at the age of 77 in a federal prison in North Carolina. He was one of the most damaging Cold War spies.

In 1968, the naval communications specialist walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington and offered Navy secrets to the Russians in return for cash. It was the start of a 17 years spying career and probably the largest breach of U.S. military communications security in history. After Walker's apprehension in 1985, it became clear that he provided the Soviets for almost two decades with most sensitive information about cryptographic systems and communications security.

KW-7 Teletype Crypto
Thanks to his work as crypto supervisor he was able to pass the secret daily key sheets of machines such as the KW-7 on-line teletype cipher machine and the KL-47, the Navy version of the KL-7 off-line rotor cipher machine, both widely used in all U.S. armed forces. He also provided the Soviets with complete technical drawings and repair manuals of crypto equipment. During a search of his house after his arrest, the FBI discovered a special device, provide by the KGB, to read the internal wiring of KL-7 rotors (to obtain the highest level of security, the rotor wirings were changed on a regular basis). Together with the technical information and daily key sheets, the Soviets had all they needed to read U.S. communications. 

KL-7 Off-line Cipher Machine
The damage that Walker caused was enormous. All those years, Soviet Intelligence was able to intercept and decrypt the high-level U.S. Navy communications. Over the next years, John Walker created a spy ring by recruiting his son Michael, who was a seaman, his brother lieutenant commander Arthur Walker and communications specialist Jerry Whitworth. It was without doubt the biggest Soviet supervised SIGINT coup of the Cold War. His spy game ended in 1985 when his wife (who else, of course) tipped off the FBI. During a stake-out, the FBI observed Walker making a deaddrop to covertly exchange secret documents for cash.

The subsequent damage assessment by U.S. intelligence showed the devastating consequences of Walker's betrayal. The compromised communications channels provided the Soviets with invaluable information about the location of U.S. ships and submarines, running operations and exercises, naval tactics, operational procedures and war plans, the technical capabilities and specifications of various weapons systems, performance of satellite imagery and information about the technology and capabilities of anti-submarine warfare. A true treasure trove for the Red Army. John Walker paid for his treason with life imprisonment.

More information on John A Walker is found at Crime Library's Family of Spies. KGB General Boris Solomatin gave an interesting interview about supervising John Walker. I also wrote about another major SIGINT incident, the capture of USS Pueblo. There's an extensive paper showing how John Walker exploited weaknesses in U.S. naval communications systems, written by U.S. Major Laura Heat.

On my website you can find more detailed information about the famous Cold War TSEC/KL-7 cipher machine, compromised by John Walker, and a realistic software simulation of the KL-7. If you're interested in Cold War spy stories, then you should visit Operation Tinker Bell, a most realistic Cold War spy game where you can use crypto machines and spy techniques to decrypt messages and unveil the story of a KGB defector.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Still Alive

Dear reader. Just a short note to say that we're still alive and kicking. Due to a scandalous lack of free time I didn't had the opportunity to add new posts. I hope to continue soon. Keep the lines open...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Windscale's Fatal Race for the Bomb

The Windscale Reactor
In the 1950s, Britain was pressured to develop its own nuclear bomb, in the hope to become a nuclear partner to the United States. As a nuclear power, Britain would retain its status as a superpower and a partnership with the U.S. could give them access to vital nuclear science.

To produce plutonium, the essential fission material for the bomb, they build the Windscale reactor, the first ever nuclear reactor in Britain. Political pressure for an urgently needed success and the risks they had to take to meet the deadline had their inevitable effects on the security.

To keep up with the United States,  who by then already had their own hydrogen bomb, Britain cranked up the production of plutonium and tritium. The aluminium cooling fins of the fuel cartridges had been reduced to dissipate less heat. The resulting higher temperature increased reaction in the core, producing more of the badly needed fission material.

Not designed to operate under these conditions, the graphite core increasingly suffered from so-called Wigner energy, which caused sudden local heat releases at irregular intervals. On 10 October 1957, some of the refitted cartridges, containing enriched uranium and lithium-magnesium, caught fire and overheated the reactor's graphite core. In an attempt to cool down the reactor, the operators increased the airflow, causing the fire to spread throughout the reactor core. The fire was eventually extinguished after 48 hours by pumping water into the fuel channels.

In contrast to modern closed-circuit water-cooled reactors, the Windscale design used airflow to control the reactor core temperature, evacuating excessive heat through a large chimney into the air. Consequently, the fire caused a release of nuclear material across Britain and Europe, making it both the first and worst ever nuclear incident in Western Europe, rated 5 on the 7-point INES scale (Chernobyl in Eastern Europe rated 7). The air-cooled core design, used for the first time in Windscale, has been abandoned since.

The truth about the cause of the Windscale incident was kept secret for political reasons. It was one of the more sinister episodes of the Cold War race for the bomb, and hardly mentioned in history. The dismantling of Windscale's iconic chimney started last September. More about this technically challenging work on the Sellafield website which includes the complete demolition program, and on World Nuclear News. The BBC website has some historical images of Windscale.

There's an excellent BBC documentary about the Windscale nuclear disaster that you can watch here below or alternatively via this youtube link.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Atomic Age - Black on White

Following up on my Camp Century post about the use of a small nuclear power reactor in Greenland, I would like to recommend two fascinating websites about atomic energy and nuclear weapons.

Mark's weblog Atomic Skies covers a wide range of applications of atomic energy. He presents both technical and historical facts, based on publicly available papers. Some of the installations, devices and ideas, conceived in the early years of atomic energy, were pretty amazing. This mysterious energy inside that tiny atom produced both some of the weirdest and some of the most brilliant inventions, from nuclear air planes to today's pretty secure nuclear reactors.


Alex Wellerstein is an historian of science at the American Institute of Physics. Alex is the author of the Nuclear Secrecy Blog and historical documents are his natural biotope. His work covers the complete nuclear era but focuses mainly on the development of the atom bomb during WW2 and the early Cold War years. He explains in an excellent way the military, technical, as well as the historical aspects of the bomb and the men who developed it.

Together, Atomic Skies and  Nuclear Secrecy Blog are good for countless hours of fascinating reading. Highly recommended