back to article Amateur code breaker honoured for defeating Colossus

An amateur cryptographer from Germany who beat the world’s first programmable digital computer Colossus in a code-breaking challenge has been honoured for his achievement. Joachim Schueth cracked a message sent using the World War II cypher in just 46 seconds using a modern laptop and a program he wrote in ADA to snag the …


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  1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects
    Paris Hilton

    Short sighted oaf.

    "Churchill ordered each of the machines to be disassembled after the war in order to keep their design secret."

    Good job virtually all the Nazi leaders were even more stupid.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    More than one unfair advantage

    As well as using a modern computer and a modern computer language, he intercepted the message before the challenge was due to start.

    This is a bit like getting an award for winning a race in a Ferrari against a guy with a horse and cart, and having a head start!

  3. Anonymous Coward

    RE: Short sighted oaf.

    I'm still puzzled why people like him, he took decisions at work which resulted in the deaths of 50,000,000 people. Most managers wouldn't get away with killing one person at work.

  4. Nick Pettefar

    Colossus Secrets

    I believe that several of the machines were moved to the new code-breaker's HQ in Cheltenham after hostilities ended; they have been working on this sort of thing ever since...

    They did not need so many after WWII and just destroyed the surplus to help keep their code-breaking abilities and technology secret.

    One of the problems that caused Colossus to be so late in completing its latest mission was poor radio reception, preventing the messages from being received correctly on the 1940s-tech receivers in use at Bletchley Park for the exercise. (AR88's); Joachim probably used a modern receiver as well as a modern computer. I guess he was also a bit closer to the transmitter too as it was only about 100 miles away...


    73 cheers

    Nick m0NjP

  5. Anonymous Coward

    As short sighted as that Sinclair chap

    If only he'd have let people into the inner workings of the ZX Spectrum, think how he could have advanced the state of the art of computer design... Jet Set Willy could have been one of the Office Assistants! All our keyboards would have had six separate functions on them!! No-one would have to use a programming language with function calls, since there would be no keys with those function names!!! Oh, the loss to humanity by keeping these things secret...

  6. David

    A Valve??!!

    A valve as a prize!! I'd have hoped for a job offer from some big gov or security firm!

  7. Mage Silver badge

    Except ..

    Ah that was only the public line.

    GCHQ had two or three (in use?) up till the early 1970s?

    He only wanted the Russians (and Merikans?) to think he was stupid.

  8. Steve

    Bletchley Park

    If anyone reading this hasn't been to BP, I can highly recommend it. Don't be put off by the mandatory 2-hour tour, you'll happily spend an entire afternoon there, even if you're not an IT geek! Colossus is far from being the only interesting exhibit.

    It was interesting to see folks working on Colossus, while on the service benches around them were thermionic valves lying between laptops :)

  9. Simon Ball
    Black Helicopters

    Actually, no....

    Churchill was quite devious. Most of the Colossi were dismantled, but two were transferred to the newly formed GCHQ. Ultra was kept deliberately secret after the war, so that no-one would realise that ENIGMA had been broken, and therefore people would continue to use it. And they did. In fact, the allies deliberately encouraged the sale of ENIGMA to developing countries. Moreover, even where ENIGMA was not in use, ignorance of the advanced cryptanalysis techniques and technology that had been developed during the war held back the development of more advanced cryptosystems for some years - ENIGMA was supposedly still secure, so why bother with anything significantly more sophisticated?

    Churchill' s secrecy was still yielding results twenty years after the war ended.

  10. P. Pod


    The times quoted really show what a staggering achievment Colossus was. The laptop was only 280 times faster, which is not much when you consider that computer power has generally followed Moore's Law.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Can't wait...

    ...for the americans to bring out a movie about this.

    No doubt they will have cracked the code the first time and this time....

  12. Dennis

    Re: Short sighted oaf.

    Doesn't history show that Churchill was not a successful leader in peace time?

    By destroying the machines he hid the success of Bletchley Park. This avoided the question of whether we could have made better use of the information. If you make too much use of the information the enemy can conclude the code is broken. Can you save both Coventry and the Atlantic convoys?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    RE: a bit closer to transmitter

    Doubt it would have made much difference. Lets say he was 100 miles away, and BP is 400 miles away, a difference of 300 miles.

    300miles is 482803.2 metres, radiowaves travel at the speed of light (3x10^8m/s)

    time is distance over speed

    482803.2m / 300000000ms = 0.001609344s

    so he would have had a 161µs advantage.

    Paris cos she likes maths, like adding up the number of guys in her address book.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Listen folks.....

    The guy didn't do badly on a bottle of brandy a day and a couple of those humungous cigars.

    Is that my coat??

  15. Jon Green


    "A valve as a prize!! I'd have hoped for a job offer from some big gov or security firm!"

    If he was hoping for, and got, such a job, do you seriously think it would have been announced publicly? Covert services don't tend to announce new hires in the Times. (Well, apart from 'C', anyway.)

    In any case, the fact he wrote his solver in ADA might clue you in to the direction his thoughts were taking him.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    And might be about time...

    ... to start a campaign to fill the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square with a statue of Alan Turing because:

    a) If any one person might be considered to shorten WW II, it is possibly he

    b) Can anyone who made such a contribution have ever been treated as shoddily by bastards proporting to be agents of the state? This particularly winds me up a treat!

    c) To make a major point against b)

    d) A hearty Fuck Off against people "only following orders"

    e) It's the right thing to do.

  17. Edward Grace

    @P. Pod

    "The laptop was only 280 times faster"

    Presumably it was running Windows Vista - all the overhead y'know...

  18. Kwac

    Can't wait... can't wait @ AC

    The Americans DID do it first AND there's a movie - U-571, so it must be true.

    Bletchly Park? Pah!

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Poor Showing from the Modern PC

    I don't think much of his efforts to be honest!

    if Moores laws (doubling of computational power every 18 month) were to hold true He should have cracked the code within 1nS of recipt of the message!

    Just porting the Colossus platform to the latest and greatest machine should have resulted in the code being broaken within 46 seconds way back in 1954..... back when Breaking Enigma code was still being done in Cheltnham :-)

  20. John Stirling

    Churchill was not short sighted

    but mistaken.

    The UK Gov has always tended towards official secrets, with the result that innovation is slow. Whilst although the US are also not exactly super public about their black ops, their greater historical dependence upon external contractors has moved most of the technology out into private ownership faster, with the result that despite having less raw intellectual know how after WWII they are the country that now leads in most areas technologically. Whereas we in the UK have been told by our 'leaders' that we are no longer a serious world power so often that most of us believe it.

    Well at least the current bunch are focussed on courageous leadership and conviction politics, no cynical coat lining going on there.

    And Kwac; U-571? You know full well that was Enigma Lite. outside now. With your coat. :)

  21. J

    Re: A Valve??!!

    Just a valve, but I wonder how much Golden Casino would pay for it on EBay...

  22. Andy Bright

    re: Churchill was not short sighted

    "they are the country that now leads in most areas technologically"

    But significantly way behind the British in the race to create the first monkey butlers and talking dogs.

  23. Nexox Enigma

    Moore's law?

    Seems to be that applies to number of transistors on a chip... So it probably doesn't have a lot to say about machines designed with valves. Plus the architectures had to be vastly different, as well as the price. I imagine that if you compared a modern machine (or cluster) that cost as much as Colossus (adjusting for inflation and whatnot) you'd solve the thing much faster than with the laptop. Assuming that code breaking is something that you can do in parallel - I have no idea.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    RE: a bit closer to transmitter

    Hmmm. Guess a distance to the nearest 100 miles then convert this to the nearest 10cm. Paris Hilton would be proud of your mathematical abilities.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    What !!!

    Not a single "Boffin" reference on the whole page. What has become of the Reg?

  26. Simon Ball


    Brute-force code-breaking is not only parallel - it is embarassingly parallel. It takes no effort at all to break the problem up into an infinite number of separate elements, since all you're doing is performing the same mathematical operation again and again with minor variations in the initial conditions (the key being tested) - there's no dependence between operations whatsoever.

  27. Mike Holden


    You might have trouble breaking something up into an infinite number of parts. Lots, yes, infinite, no.

  28. Tony Haines

    Re: Moore's law?

    Nexox Enigma,

    didn't you hear that China's first CPU had six million crystal tubes?

  29. John Stag

    The laptop was only 280 times faster...

    ....which is not much when you consider that computer power has generally followed Moore's Law.

    Did you read the article? The program was written in Ada.

  30. Alan Lukaszewicz

    Valve type?

    Was it a diode, triode, ... pentode or other?

  31. Svein Skogen

    According to german law...

    He should now be arrested, for being in possession of "hacker tools". Do not pass start, do not collect $200, go directly to jail. Brilliant laws, aren't they?


  32. Craig
    Dead Vulture

    It's not "ADA"

    It's not an acronym, it's "Ada" (as in Lovelace, fnar fnar)

  33. andreyvul

    Real programmers...

    ...program stuff like this in ANSI C (with inline ASM).

    Orders of magnitude faster.

  34. tony trolle


    me thinks plane crash.....

    I like the bit (missed from this report ) about another team had "Virtual Colussus" running on a laptop also.

    And Joachim Schüth used a 1.4Mhz laptop with NetBSD.

    Penguin power !

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