Mathematics and the Enigma Machine

Essay by flecky28High School, 11th gradeA-, November 2014

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Justin Fleck

Period 7

The Enigma Machine

Up till the Second World War, the most advanced forms of encryption involved simple paper and pencil techniques. But security blunders on both sides during the First World War highlighted a need for a higher level of secrecy, with more advanced methods of enciphering messages. Both the Allies and the Axis countries were looking for a new way to encrypt messages, a way that would result in complete security. In 1915 two Dutch Naval officers had invented a machine to encrypt messages. This encryption tool became one of the most notorious of all time: the Enigma cipher machine. Arthur Scherbius, a German businessman, patented the Enigma in 1918 and began selling it commercially to banks and businesses.

When a plain text letter was typed on the keyboard, an electric current would pass through the different scrambling elements of the machine and light up a cipher text letter on the "lamp board". What made the Enigma machine so special was the fact that every time a letter was pressed, the movable parts of the machine would change position so that the next time the same letter was pressed, it would most likely be enciphered as something different. This meant that it wasn't possible to use traditional methods to try and crack the notorious cipher. To make things even more difficult, different parts of the machine could be set up in different ways, with each setting producing a unique stream of enciphered letters. Unless you knew the exact settings of the machine, you couldn't decipher the messages.

When the Enigma machine is used, the Enigma machine itself is the algorithm; the way in which it is set up is the key. Just as with any other type of cipher, as long as the recipient...