Thursday, June 06, 2024

Martin Gillow's Virtual Colossus and Other Machines

The Virtual Colossus
© Image Martin Gillow

The history of crypto equipment is quite fascinating, but diving into the archives, searching for historical publications, or collecting those old machines is not everyone’s cup of tea. Luckily, we have a community, dedicated to preserving the history of old crypto equipment, research the technical details, publish their history and operational use, and bring those old crypto machines back to life, either physically, which can be quite expensive, or virtually though software simulations.

Writing software that works exactly like the real crypto machine requires extensive study of the original machine, its mechanical and/or electrical properties, and many hours to write the software that reproduces the plaintext or ciphertext exactly like the original machine. However, you could take it one step further, and make a virtual three-dimensional machine where you can manipulate all components and encrypt, decrypt or break messages, just like the wartime operators.

Martin Gillow created a website with no less than ten 3D simulations. The virtual British Colossus machine is the first ever digital computer, developed in WW2 to break the German Lorenz SZ40/42 encrypted telex, of which he also created a virtual version. There’s also the virtual Enigma machine, and the Bombe that was used by the Bletchley Park codebreakers to decrypt the German Enigma messages.

Hagelin's U.S. M-209
© Image Martin Gillow
Also the British Typex machine and the U.S. M-209, developed by the renown Swedish engineer Boris Hagelin, have their 3D version. Moreover, the collection includes the ICT 1301 ”Flossie” second-generation computer, the E.R.N.I.E electronic random number generator, and the American crib dragging machine Dragon that helped to break the Lorenz messages.

Of course, the countless hours of work by Martin to research and study those machines, and write accurate 3D versions, is just enormous, and makes this 3D collection simply unaffordable… unless you just want to preserve and share the history of old crypto machines, and make the simulations available to everyone for free. A big Thank You to Martin for creating all those virtual machines, and for being part of that small community, dedicated to preserve cryptologic history.

Make sure to scroll all the way down his main page, to find all virtual 3D simulations and read the various tutorials on how to use them. Also click the relevant "find out more" buttons to learn about each machine and its history. Visit the Virtual Colossus website.
Highly recommended, and no better day than D-day to share Martin's work and commemorate all codebreakers.

No comments: