Video Demo of the Enigma Machine

This video is part of David Spark’s (@dspark) coverage of the 2010 RSA Conference on security. For tons of video interviews and articles from the conference, check out the summary of Spark’s coverage on the Tripwire blog.

Our good friends at the NSA had a booth at the RSA Conference, and the highlight for me was the opportunity to see, touch, and play with the Enigma machine. It was the same machine the Nazis used for code creating and breaking during WWII. The U.S. broke the Enigma code, but the Nazis never realized we had. Our ability to decode their Enigma-written messages helped shorten the war considerably.

I had seen these machines before, but I never knew how they actually worked. So I asked one of the NSA staffers if he could demo the machine while I videotaped it, but he told me he couldn’t be on camera. Since I don’t work for the NSA, I can be on camera. After he showed me how it worked, I shot a demo.

The Enigma machine had a series of relays of which at each point the letter that you selected could be changed to any other of the other 26 letters in the alphabet. In total, a single press of a key stroke could change that letter between seven to nine times. But the rotors on the Enigma kept shifting, so if I pressed the same key twice, it would deliver a completely different result. Watch the video to see how it worked.


9 comments

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  1. AG March 5, 2010 at 5:08 am #

    I believe it was British codebreakers at Bletchley Park who broke the Enigma code, not the U.S.

  2. NanoGeek March 5, 2010 at 7:59 am #

    Looked it up on Wikipedia (I know, it’s not the best source), and it says Americans, Brits, and the Polish all had a hand in cracking the code.

  3. Ceefax March 5, 2010 at 11:25 am #

    Contrary to popular Hollywood history, it was not the US who captured and ‘broke’ the German Enigma machines.

    After a daring raid by British forces to capture it, the Enigma was broken at Bletchley Park which was staffed by mainly British but also other ‘Allied’ countymen and women staffed there. However the reason it was broken was the first computer, designed and built by Alan Turing, a brilliant English mathematician and scientist and his team of cyrptologysts.

  4. john January 27, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

    The british broke the enigma code of nazis not americans. read history.

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