Friday, January 11, 2013

Enigma Challenge Update

The Enigma Simulator
William and Alice Thomas, two retired U.S. Navy cryptologists, successfully completed the Enigma Challenge on January 10, 2013 as a husband-and-wife team. They are the 38th to solve all ten messages. It was their love for WW2 history that drew them into this challenge and it was an honor for me to receive them in the challenge.

History is important to all of us, but especially to cryptologists, because it is by learning how crypto systems worked in the past that they can both improve their own systems and exploit those of the adversary. The history of the German Enigma machine, which played a major role in Second World War, is probably the most important example of cryptology and its power, and this initiated the extensive use of Signals Intelligence in modern warfare.

Meanwhile, the Enigma Challenge is running for almost seven years. Here are some statistics: in 82 months, 209 competitors from 35 different countries entered the challenge. I received 1278 correct message solutions, which is an average of 15 per month (yes, that kept me busy :-). Until now, 18 percent of the participants solved all ten messages. Some worked day and night to solve the messages in only a few days. Others took weeks, months or even more than a year to finish the challenge, depending on their available free time and how much sleep they wanted to sacrifice.

47 percent correctly decrypted at least 7 messages, which shows that everyone with a bit of perseverance can get pretty far in this challenge. All kinds of people have entered the challenge: students, technicians, farmers, computer programmers, school teachers, writers, military, radio amateurs and many others. Their age ranged, as far as I know, from 12 to 85 years.

The statistics show that cryptology and codebreaking are quite popular. This always amazed me, since cryptology is often regarded as a boring and obscure science for geeks (just mention crypto to your neighbour and you know what I mean). However, the Enigma challenge and the number of visitors on my website proved the contrary. You don't need to be a genius or maths geek to enter the challenge and it’s really fun to do. Nothing beats the thrill of finally discovering readable text in a cryptogram.

I also found that my Enigma simulator is used by many teachers in high schools and universities to initiate their students in the world of ciphers and codes. Cryptology and the world of military secrets and intelligence is an exciting way to get young people interested in maths. I'm pleased to see that the challenge continues to attract both young and old. The complete Table of Honor is found on the Enigma Challenge page. The freeware Enigma Simulator, the Enigma Challenge and much more information on cryptology is found on the Cipher Machines and Cryptology website, and don't forget... crypto is fun!

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