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Hacking Enigma | US Tour 2018 | Dr Enigma is coming to America!

Due to increasing demand for the Enigma machine to appear in the USA, I’m putting on a special tour to the US so that more people get the chance to hear the fascinating Engima story, and play with a real Enigma machine.

The event: ‘Hacking Engima | How The Nazi Codes Were Cracked’ will be coming to US shores in February 2018. I am now taking bookings so contact me asap if you would like to host an event. More details below.

Hacking Engima | How The Nazi Codes Were Cracked

Learn about perhaps the world’s greatest ever hack, how some of the greatest minds in history broke the Enigma codes, something Nazi Germany never believed possible.

 

In this unique event, British Enigma Machine expert, owner and speaker, Dr Mark Baldwin, will present the incredible Enigma Machine story and perform a live demo where the audience get to play with an original, iconic Enigma Machine.

Format:

The Enigma Machine Story (45m + 15m for Q&A)
One hour talk on the Enigma Machine and how World War 2 Codebreakers broke German ciphers; the fascinating history, technical explanation and human story behind one of the world’s most important hacks.

 

Live Demo of an original Enigma Machine (30m)
Live demonstration of Dr Baldwin’s personal Enigma Machine, where the audience can not only get up close but actually touch, photograph and play with a real, genuine Enigma Machine, and ask further questions.

Dr Baldwin’s talk and live demo is hugely popular with the audience, read the Enigma machine talk testimonials to hear what people are saying about the experience.

Note: Length and content of the event can be adjusted to suit audience.

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Image based on photo taken by Si Barber

Enigma Machine @ Turing Fest 2017

Last week I was in Edinburgh, invited by the organisers to speak at the Turing Fest – Scotland’s biggest Tech gathering.

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My role was not only to give a presentation explaining something of the workings of the Enigma machine, but also to mount a display, allowing participants to operate a genuine wartime Enigma machine.

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Despite being an almost one hundred year old piece of technology, the Enigma Machine story continues to fascinate younger generations and I was presenting alongside speakers from some of today’s top tech companies including: Google, Microsoft, Y Combinator, TechCrunch, Skyscanner, Moz, Trello and Github.

My hands-on demonstrations and my talk seemed to go down well with what was cleary a very technologically-savvy group of people, and one of my younger audiences.

A big thanks to Turing Fest for inviting me up to Scotland to share the Engima Story with such a lovely and interested crowd. I hope to see you again next year.

Here are a few tweets from some of the Turing Fest attendees:

The Stolen Enigma machine

Bletchley Park – war station for Britain’s codebreakers – is nearly 100 miles from where I live, so I don’t go there at the drop of a hat. However, I do go quite often, my first visit being over 20 years ago but, because of the distance, I try to combine calling in at Bletchley with some other mission. This often means that I have my Enigma machine with me because I’m en route for a speaking engagement. Do I leave the machine in my car while I call at the shop, visit an exhibition, or meet up with a contact? I do not! When I’m asked why I lug the machine with me, I respond with another question: where is the only place from which an Enigma machine has been stolen recently? Answer: Bletchley Park.

 

1 April 2000 was a Saturday, and Bletchley was open (it was only open two days per fortnight back in those days). That night, the national news programmes reported that a ‘unique code machine had been stolen from Bletchley Park’. I found this both worrying and puzzling, because I didn’t think that the Bletchley Park Trust owned a unique Enigma machine. The basic facts soon surfaced: what had been stolen, from a display case in the mansion during opening hours, was an Abwehr Enigma, a rare type with no plugboard, and with four rotors. A much quoted value was £110,000, which I felt to be something of an overestimate at that time. Was the Trust embarrassed? – you bet, because this machine wasn’t theirs, it belonged to GCHQ.

G312 theft

The machine, serial number G312, made the front cover of the very next issue of Invaluable, a trade periodical devoted to exploring security measures designed to protect art collections, and to tracking down stolen objects when security has failed. BT, then still co-owner of the site offered a £5,000 reward for information leading to its recovery. The grounds around the mansion were searched, the lake was dragged, but to no avail. Machine and thief had vanished. Speculation was rife; many declared it was an ‘inside job’, arising out of rivalries between board members of the Bletchley Park Trust, others argued that it must have been stolen to order for a wealthy client.

G312

It was more than five months later that the Trust received a strange letter, from someone purporting to be in possession of the machine, but wishing it to be returned to its rightful owners. The catch? The writer claimed that an (unidentified) person had bought the machine for £10,000, and would like to be re-imbursed for what he had innocently paid out. Words like ‘ransom’ and ‘blackmail’ would come into most people’s minds at this point.

 

The Trust and the police worked closely on the case. The ransom wasn’t paid, but the blackmailer wasn’t traced. He grew more demanding, leaving threatening voice mails for the CEO of Bletchley Park, and raising his price to £25,000. This the Trust finally agreed to pay – but before any payment was made, the blackmailer posted the machine to Jeremy Paxman, who was the presenter of the BBC 2 programme ‘Newsnight’. The machine itself was unharmed, but three of its four rotors had been removed. The blackmailer threatened to destroy these if the ransom were not paid in full.

 

By this time communications with the blackmailer had broadened to include messages published in the personal columns of The Times, and a Times journalist, Nick Fielding, became a go-between, relaying messages of various sorts to police and blackmailer. Finally, in October, an antique dealer, Dennis Yates, was arrested in a telephone box making an incriminating call to Fielding. The rotors were recovered later, undamaged.

 

Yates was charged with handling stolen goods, and blackmail. His case came to court in September 2001, and he pleaded guilty so readily to the first charge that the second was not proceeded with. He was subsequently sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment, but released within three months. The thief has never been identified, but security at Bletchley Park has been stepped up.

Yates Oct 2001

On a number of occasions, I have had a trade stand at the National Vintage Communication Fair, and was intrigued to find that Yates was often there as well. We passed the time of day, but I never felt able to raise with him the subject of G312. However, the last time I saw him at one of these fairs, on his stand he had – an Enigma machine!

Yates 5.13

What a story – theft, blackmail, coded messages, anonymous letters and parcels, and a mysterious buyer – but the complete story has never been told, and now may well be lost for ever, as a Vintage Radio website recently reported that Yates had been found dead in his car earlier this year.

Enigma Machine Visits Skyscanner

Earlier this year, I was invited to one of the UK’s most successful tech companies, Skyscanner, to give a demonstration of my Enigma machine to some of their software engineers. I have found there’s a real interest from ‘techies’ about the Enigma machine story and the Alan Turing connection, and it was a pleasure to be able to share a little about the story, with such lovely people. (BTW if you’re a software engineer and live in California then take a look at my forthcoming Enigma Machine Silicon Valley Tech Tour, and get in touch if you’d like me to visit your company or tech-meet up).

As part of my visit, they made a short video of me explaining a few things about the Enigma machine which you can watch below. Thanks to Skyscanner for having me, and especially to Lisa Venter and Łukasz Suliga for creating the video.

 

 

Alan Turing’s Out-tray: cache of letters found

A collection of nearly 150 letters to and by Alan Turing has been found in a neglected filing cabinet in a storeroom at Manchester University. Turing worked at the university from May 1948, when he was appointed Deputy Director of the university’s Computing Machine Laboratory. There was no Director as such, but the Head of the Mathematics Department was Professor Max Newman, a distinguished mathematician who had been a Bletchley Park codebreaker during the war. Newman’s influence on Turing went back to the 1930s, when his lectures at Cambridge had inspired Turing to work on the Entscheidungsproblem, and this led to Turing’s seminal 1936 paper ‘On Computable Numbers’.

 

The papers which have just surfaced cover the period from March 1949 to 2 June 1954, and thus run right up to Turing’s death on 7 June. I have not yet been to Manchester to see the originals, but I have read the archivist’s synopsis of every one. Despite there being numerous items written after Turing’s trial and conviction for ‘gross indecency’ in March 1952, no reference is made to any of the problems he faced at this time: his trial, the verdict, the hormone injections and psychiatric analysis, the loss of his Security Clearance, etc. In fact, they shed little light on Turing the man, although he does make some admissions as to his dislike of the USA, his lack of skill as a reviewer, and the gap between his writing and speaking styles.

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The subject matter of many of the letters testifies to his growing success and reputation as a mathematician. He receives many requests to write papers and books, to speak at conferences, to review papers, to advise other academics and students on research, to supply copies of his own papers (we’re talking here not just pre-internet days, but pre-photocopier, too), and to permit the Manchester University computer to be used to do work for others. Although none of the letters is outstandingly important, their sheer number and diversity demonstrate clearly that Turing was a highly respected mathematician, right at the forefront of the newly emerging computer revolution, whose views were sought by other eminent mathematicians across the world.

 

The first Manchester computer, the one Turing used, was called ‘The Baby’, but it was superseded by a series of ‘Atlas’ machines, which remained in use into the late 1960s. It is here that I can reveal a connection from my own past. In the 1960s, I was working for a firm of consulting civil engineers, and we wished to design some large asymmetrical suspended road slabs as part of Newcastle’s Central Motorway East. Computer analysis was the best way forward, so we commissioned Manchester University to run our analyses overnight (day-times were reserved for in-house use). Now comes the bit that anyone under 50 will find incredible. We sent our inputs to Manchester, as punched paper tapes, on the train – and the stacks of fanfold computer paper with the Atlas results came back by train the next day. This was the highest of high-tech in the 1960s!

 

Of course, in those days, I knew nothing of Turing. Having been researching his achievements during the last twenty years, I am now often asked to speak about Turing and his work. In August, it was the Turing Fest in Edinburgh, and in October I am contributing to a 2-day study tour about Alan Turing, organised by the New Scientist.

Corsham: Enigma is coming!

On November 10th, I’ll be presenting a ‘Codebreakers’ show at the Pound Arts Centre in Corsham, Wiltshire. Those of you in Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset, who found that Worcester was too far north, will now be able to enjoy a full evening’s exploration of the Enigma story, and will get a chance to press the keys of this famous machine yourselves.

For all details and tickets, ring the Pound Arts Centre on 01249 712 618.

Is The Imitation Game a true story?

What a spell-binding film but what a travesty! To make the story even more dramatic than real life, director Morten Tyldum introduced numerous distortions. The website Information is Beautiful analyses 17 films which claim to be based on true stories, scoring each scene according to how true it actually is.

Of the 17, ‘The Imitation Game’ comes a miserable bottom, with a truth rating of only 41.4%, way below any of the others.

One part that was accurate however, was the depiction of the Engima machine that was shown in the short U-boat scene. I know this because it was my 4-rotor Enigma machine that was used in the film!

4 Rotor Engima Machine
Dr Baldwin’s 4-rotor Enigma machine, as seen in The Imitation Game

A wacky typewriter: Enigma machine bought for €100 in Romania

I have often heard stories of people who saw a ‘funny looking typewriter’, but failed to buy it. Later, they realised it had been an Enigma machine, but it had gone by the time they went back. I’ve always treated such tales as urban myths, but a more credible version of the story emerged via the BBC last month.

A knowledgeable Romanian mathematician spotted a ‘funny looking typewriter’ in a flea market, priced at 100 Euros. Recognising exactly what it actually was (a 3-rotor Enigma) he snapped it up, and sent it to auction, when it fetched 42,000 Euros. I am reliably informed that the buyer is now looking for £75,000.

It’s thought that around 30,000 Enigma machines were made, but although the vast majority were destroyed during the war, there are still some hiding out there, waiting to be found. Keep your eyes open!

Huntingdon Hall Enigma machine Talk (Worcester)

On the 25th August I’ll be speaking for a couple of hours at Huntingdon Hall, Worcester. Come along and discover a whole lot more about the Enigma machine, Bletchley Park, Alan Turing and the Battle of the Atlantic.

I’ll be bringing my rare 4-rotor Enigma machine along, which starred (albeit briefly!) in the recent film, The Imitation Game. The audience will have the chance to come and play with the machine and see the inner workings of this iconic wartime piece of history.

4 Rotor Engima Machine
Dr Baldwin’s 4-rotor Enigma machine, as seen in The Imitation Game