Pigeon's Last Message Mystifies British Codebreakers

Pigeon's Last Message Mystifies British Codebreakers

image

Without knowing who sent the message, and who it was sent to, this pigeon's final transmission may never be decoded.

When David Martin found the remains of a dead messenger pigeon in his chimney, the World War Two era coded transmission it carried in a canister on its leg was sent off to the best codebreakers the British have. Regrettably, the best just couldn't decipher the pigeon's final message. The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) may never know whodunit, because it doesn't know who sent it.

Messages like these were top priority stuff, and encoded by the sender in such a way that, without access to the sender's codebooks, understanding the message is next to impossible. Use of what was called a one-time pad meant that a random key could be applied to the message, known only to the sender and the recipient. One-time meant that the key was used once only, for that one message. GCHQ doesn't know who sent it; it has no record of Sergeant W Stot, assumed to be the signatory. Without knowing who sent it, GCHQ can't know who it was intended to be sent to. No sender and no recipient means no key, and thus no way of understanding the pigeon's transmission.

Pigeons were tagged with the descriptor NURP and a number code, and two of those appear in the message. Tracing those numbers is GCHQ's next move. In the meantime GCHQ has asked that anyone with any information as to the identity of W Stot contact it.

There may yet be hope. "The most helpful suggestion we had through all of this," said a GCHQ researcher, "was from a member of the public who suggested that, since the message was found in the chimney, the first two words were likely to be Dear Santa." So at least GCHQ has a lead, of sorts.

Source: GCHQ

Permalink

I'm gonna go with message from the future warning us of our own undoing and instructions on how to prevent it from ever happening.

I say its a message from the future by aliens telling us how to destroy ourselves so they can come and feast upon our delicious Human brains.

> "without access to the sender's codebooks, understanding the message is next to impossible"

Next to?

Okay, granted, if you don't have access to the code book but have access to the procedure used to generate said code book, then yes, it's "next to impossible". Unless, of course, it's a proper procedure, in which case it is, again, absolutely impossible.

Lvl 64 Klutz:
I'm gonna go with message from the future warning us of our own undoing and instructions on how to prevent it from ever happening.

I'm guessing it says send more pigeons to be quite honest. Either that or it's saying to get that person outta there. XD

There is always that ONE assassination contract you miss.

Obviously it says "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine".

Karloff:

There may yet be hope. "The most helpful suggestion we had through all of this," said a GCHQ researcher, "was from a member of the public who suggested that, since the message was found in the chimney, the first two words were likely to be Dear Santa."

Ah, that dry British wit.

Anyone else notice how on 'number of copies sent' it says 2? Doesn't that mean that there's another one of these out there somewhere, probably in the British Archives or something?

Here's a question: Even if they manage to ferret out the sender/recipient identities, does that mean they will be able to match the message up to the correct one-time pad? Based on my experience with historical archives, which were medieval and not modern I'll grant, I have my doubts about whether what is effectively ephemera were cataloged well enough to track down the necessary information (assuming anyone even bothered to preserve the pad needed).

Sol_HSA:
> "without access to the sender's codebooks, understanding the message is next to impossible"

Next to?

Okay, granted, if you don't have access to the code book but have access to the procedure used to generate said code book, then yes, it's "next to impossible". Unless, of course, it's a proper procedure, in which case it is, again, absolutely impossible.

HEAR HEAR for an insightful answer. One-time pads are randomly generated and unbreakable, and those five-digit letters definitely look like the work of a one-time pad.

On the bright side, the system works. Imagine you were all Nazi's and this was WW2. You wouldn't know what.

I know exactly what this is.

Steam product codes.

Wait: How does this pigeon exist? I thought Carrier Pigeons went extinct in the 1920's.

Theoretically, couldn't we brute force this?

The codes must be built to a standard pattern, yes? So all we need is a computer to run every possible permutation of the coding algorithm and compare the results to a spell checker until it finds a word.

Wargamer:
Theoretically, couldn't we brute force this?

The codes must be built to a standard pattern, yes? So all we need is a computer to run every possible permutation of the coding algorithm and compare the results to a spell checker until it finds a word.

This. Computers suck at factorization which is what is needed to break encryption, but they will get there eventually. I don't believe for a second that the UK's BEST codebreakers are unable to decrypt this.

Brute force that bitch!

Edit: There is no brute forcing OTP's apparently.

It'd be funny if it were a resignation letter.

All I can think of after reading this is Cryptonomicon. Barely related, I know, but somehow. . .

yeah given that one time pads are generated by truly random sources for example radioactive elemental decay or atmospheric radio noise makes brute force ineffective some methods of one time pads makes even looking for sequences in the code itself pointless
also this is probably a low priority for the code breakers who are probably more interested in breaking the latest north Korean messages

miketehmage:

Wargamer:
Theoretically, couldn't we brute force this?

The codes must be built to a standard pattern, yes? So all we need is a computer to run every possible permutation of the coding algorithm and compare the results to a spell checker until it finds a word.

This. Computers suck at factorization which is what is needed to break encryption, but they will get there eventually. I don't believe for a second that the UK's BEST codebreakers are unable to decrypt this.

Brute force that bitch!

Edit: There is no brute forcing OTP's apparently.

everything can be bruteforced. it jut takes more time as it is more complex. such lenght OTP would likely take a few million years with a standart server speeds.

As much as OTP are supposed to be un-crack-able. The Key is almost certainly 5 values of 1 - 26 for each block at worst. That's only 12 Million combinations for each block. It work take my computer no time at all to run all 12 million combinations. Only a few of them could have any meaning. Toss the ones that are actually English words into a table and any human being would be able to pick out the most likely or even obvious words. I know what I'm coding tonight.

looks like the enigma blather.. i thought that shit was cracked

medv4380:
As much as OTP are supposed to be un-crack-able. The Key is almost certainly 5 values of 1 - 26 for each block at worst. That's only 12 Million combinations for each block. It work take my computer no time at all to run all 12 million combinations. Only a few of them could have any meaning. Toss the ones that are actually English words into a table and any human being would be able to pick out the most likely or even obvious words. I know what I'm coding tonight.

Except those codes are unique, and on top of that, your looking possible at more than one level of ciphering. Brute forcing passwords (in a computing sense) essentially relies on someone encrypting the random string you've sent and hopefully you'll create the correct hash.

"I've found a way to seamlessly replace Hitler with a doppelganger who will carefully fumble the rest of the campaign, Proceeding in three days unless instructed otherwise."

saintdane05:
Wait: How does this pigeon exist? I thought Carrier Pigeons went extinct in the 1920's.

Nope, that would be the passenger pigeon. A carrier or homing pidgeon was used during world war one and two (similar name though). Here's an excerpt from wiki showing they were still being reliably used even in this modern era, "In March 2002, it was announced that India's Police Pigeon Service messenger system in Orissa was to be retired, due to the expanded use of the Internet."

Penguinis Weirdus:

medv4380:
As much as OTP are supposed to be un-crack-able. The Key is almost certainly 5 values of 1 - 26 for each block at worst. That's only 12 Million combinations for each block. It work take my computer no time at all to run all 12 million combinations. Only a few of them could have any meaning. Toss the ones that are actually English words into a table and any human being would be able to pick out the most likely or even obvious words. I know what I'm coding tonight.

Except those codes are unique, and on top of that, your looking possible at more than one level of ciphering. Brute forcing passwords (in a computing sense) essentially relies on someone encrypting the random string you've sent and hopefully you'll create the correct hash.

One Time Pads aren't hashes, and the way they were implemented in WWII is a bit funny and makes it so you have a probable method for attack.

In modern code I'd just take 256 random bytes add them to a 256 block I wanted to encrypt. The result is the encrypted output, and since I'm just using whole bytes I don't need to do a mod 256 function. In this case you can make any random pad have any output you want. This is the core of why One Time Pads are, when done right, unbreakable.

However, that's not exactly what they did in WWII. They took a 5 digit number like 54048. Turned the letter they want to encrypt to a number of 1-26. So HELLO Coded to 54048 would be HJPLS. The catch is they only used the values 0-9 to apply the padding and then did something similar to Mod 26 to make the number between 1-26. Then Converted them back to letters. The 0-9 makes it so that you can narrow each character down to 10 possible. Done properly, to prevent any chance of decoding, you'd have to have used 0-25. If you assume HJPLS is a 5 letter English word then it can only be one of 38 words out of about 2000, using a modern dictionary.
HIKER HELLO HANDS GAMIN GAMES FINIS FILER FEIGN FALLS FAKIR FAKER EDGER EAGER DINGO DINER DENIM DEIGN CHOIR CHOCK CHILL CHICK CELLO CAPER CANER CAMEO CAMEL BINGO BIKER BENDS BEGIN BANJO BANGS BALLS BALER BAKER BAGEL AEGIS YIKES

The Intelligence agency would have a leg up on someone like me doing it since they should have a good dictionary of actual words they used during that period. If my dictionary is incomplete I won't decode those missing words. They might also be aware of random number distribution errors in their pads that would help reduce possibilities further.

From there they have physical placement based on where they were found in the code. You take all the words that you find and then put them together in every possible sentence that their placement allows for. Only certain combinations would form anything resembling valid English.

One possibility is that it is a One Time Pad with a Transposition Cipher. I wouldn't be able to brute force my way though the Transposition Cipher, but Intelligence Agencies would. All that would need to change in my method is to apply each possible transposition cipher. Which they should have. It would generate a list for each one, but as long as you know the possible transposition ciphers it is still a limited number of possibilities, and not an unlimited number of possibilities, it would work.

Keep in mind that this kind of coding and decoding needed to be done quickly and easily by hand, and a one time pad is only perfect if the rules are followed perfectly.

I suspect the British code breaker looked at it. Saw it was a one time pad, and went looking for the code book. If you believe that what you're looking at is unbreakable without the code book, then it is unbreakable.

Lvl 64 Klutz:
I'm gonna go with message from the future warning us of our own undoing and instructions on how to prevent it from ever happening.

First of all, Good Day to you, Sir.

Second, the code is probably "Hitler has developed a giant robot suit, deploy William "B.J." Blazkowicz".

medv4380:
snip

Sorry you do seem to know your stuff. I just get a bit annoyed when people just yell things like "why can't they just brute-force it etc" without any idea how cracking works. Plus I hadn't slept for a while when I wrote that.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here