Until the debut of “The Imitation Game,” an Oscar-nominated film Alan Turing’s name wasn’t widely known. Alan is the man behind the cracking of the Enigma code, and his role in the ending of World War II cannot be underestimated.
Who Was Alan Turing?
Turing was a bright mathematician. He went to both Princeton and Cambridge universities. He worked for the British government before taking up a full time job at the Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. It was here that Alan joined the course of deciphering military codes used by the Germans.
What Was the Enigma Code?
The Enigma Code was a way of encrypting messages used by the Germans. To make an Enigma code, one would require an Enigma machine. It enabled the Nazi forces during World War II because they would easily encode classified messages and transmit them over thousands of miles.
What Made the Enigma Code Special?
One would wonder why the encryption mattered anyway, and why it took a lot of effort to decode it. The quality of codes is determined by the number of possibilities of getting the correct answer. In the case of the Enigma code, one had to get all settings on the Enigma machine right before you could decode it. What made it “un-crackable” was that you would have to explore over 15 million possibilities before getting the correct code.
How Did Alan Turing Crack the Enigma Code?
Although Alan didn’t work alone, he is credited for the work because he was the lead mathematician, and he did most of the work. Alongside his colleague Gordon Welchman, Alan developed a unique version of the Bombe machine. The Poles invented the original one, but it couldn’t decode messages fast. One day, Turing discovered a flaw in the Nazi’s encoded messages. The weak spot was everything Alan needed for his breakthrough.
What Was the “Weak Spot” in the Enigma Code?
When using the Enigma machine, it would encrypt the message using different letters. For instance, if you typed “car,” it would read “uyz” or anything else that’s different from the word. It meant that the machine couldn’t encrypt a letter as itself. Let’s say you typed “l,” there is no way it could encrypt that as an “l.”
How this flaw helped crack the enigma code:
Now that Turing knew that a letter couldn’t be encrypted as itself, the possibilities decreased exponentially. All Alan required for a breakthrough was a set of alphabets that the Germans had used to encrypt a word. He used “Heil Hitler”, because Germans would always place it at the end of every message. …and Boom! That is how Alan Turing cracked the Enigma code.
Alan Turing’s Death
Unfortunately, things didn’t end very well for Turing. In 1952, he was arrested with homosexuality, which was illegal at the time. Because of his contribution towards reducing the period of World War II, he received a lesser sentence of castration. In 1954, Alan was found dead in a room, and the cause of death was cyanide poisoning.
The Turing Award
Alan Turing’s legacy wasn’t fully understood until long after his death. Today, he is acknowledged as the father of computers. His work saved many lives and helped to determine the reason for conflicts. Turing’s legacy is carried on by the annual Turing Award that is the highest recognition in computer science since 1966.