Fortunately, the NSA maintains the National Cryptologic Museum, a fantastic history of code and code-breaking machines, and so my visit ended up being about historical, rather than contemporary, history.
Being about cryptology, there's no doubt that the star of the museum is the Enigma, the German device used by the Nazis in World War II to encrypt their messages and which the Allies finally broke.
This is Enigma. As the museum puts it, "In the years following World War I, both commercial and financial institutions came to rely heavily on radio for rapid worldwide communication. The desire to render their message unintelligible to any but the intended recipient soon gave rise to a small, but lucrative, cipher machine industry.
"Numerous machines and devices were invented to meet the need. The electromechanical, wired-rotor machine known commercially as Enigma was among the best.
"A Dutchman, Hugo A. Koch, conceived the idea of the Enigma in 1919. The first commercial model was produced in 1923."
The museum's explanation continues: "Impressed by Enigma's security, based on careful statistical analysis, the German government moved to acquire all rights to the machine. After Hitler's takeover in 1933, Enigma was no longer commercially available. The use of the machine spread to all branches of the German government. As German military might began to grow, a new version of the machine, which featured an added plugboard or 'steckler,' was adopted for general use by all services." Click here to read the related story on the National Cryptologic Museum, and click here to check out the entire Road Trip 2010 package.
August 6, 2010 4:00 AM PDT
Photo by: Daniel Terdiman/CNET
| Caption by: Daniel Terdiman
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