back to article Canadian man: I solved WWII WAR HERO pigeon code!

An amateur code-breaking enthusiast and history buff from Canada claims to have succeeded where professional cryptographers from GCHQ failed in decoding a message found on the long-dead remains of a carrier pigeon. Gord Young, from Peterborough, in Ontario, claims that the message can be deciphered using a WWI codebook he …

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  1. Tony Rogerson
    Thumb Up

    Resources

    Thankfully its good to see that GCHQ have the common sense to put resources behind what is going on now and that should always be the case!

    1. LarsG
      Meh

      Re: Resources

      UK the leaders in cryptography until they began relying on Microsoft computer technology.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Resources

        Yet another non-related reply to the first comment from LarsG just to appear high on the comments ordering I see... May as well just yell "second!"

        1. Zaphod.Beeblebrox
          Thumb Up

          Re: May as well just yell "second!"

          More likely "tenth!" or just "not first!"

        2. Arctic fox
          Trollface

          Re: Resources "Yet another non-related reply to the first comment from LarsG" Had you......

          .........not posted that as an AC I might have had more sympathy for your point. Or was your posting some form of highly advance post-modernist irony that I am intellectually unequipped to appreciate?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Unhappy

        Re: Resources

        Uk leaders in cryptography who actually invented public-private key encryption but due to the usual utterly short sighted british civil service mentality , decided not to reveal it and hence profit out of it. So the americans re-invented it a decade later and the rest is history.

        If ever a country was lions led by donkeys its Britain.

        1. Psyx
          Stop

          Re: Resources

          "Thankfully its good to see that GCHQ have the common sense to put resources behind what is going on now and that should always be the case!"

          Erm... they haven't. Someone spent ten minutes knocking up a statement saying "It's one-time pad, can't be broken without the code book, end of story"

          How exactly is that ploughing resources into it?

          "decided not to publicly reveal how its intelligence services were using cryptography."

          Fixed that for you!

          1. Alfred
            Meh

            Re: Resources

            "Erm... they haven't. Someone spent ten minutes knocking up a statement saying "It's one-time pad, can't be broken without the code book, end of story"

            That's a phenomenal misread. You have essentially completely agreed with the person to whom you are replying, but whilst thinking you're disagreeing.

            1. Psyx
              Meh

              Re: Resources

              "That's a phenomenal misread. You have essentially completely agreed with the person to whom you are replying, but whilst thinking you're disagreeing."

              Only is you assume the first post wasn't sarcasm. Which is clearly was.

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Resources

          Profit from it?

          Who exactly would profit from it in 1973?

          Except the Russians of course - it would have been great fro them not to have lost all those agents who reused one time pads.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            WTF?

            Re: Resources

            >Profit from it?

            >

            >Who exactly would profit from it in 1973?

            Get a brain then get a clue for it. You might as well ask who would have benefited from computers in 1973.

        3. PyLETS
          Boffin

          security by obscurity

          invented public-private key encryption but due to the usual utterly short sighted british civil service mentality , decided not to reveal it"

          Cryptography was considered by this culture something to be kept secret as it was thought your enemy would then find it harder to break. They were aware enough in the seventies of Kerckhoff's Law in relation to the requirement to be able to rekey a system in case an enemy learned a security system design, so by rekeying the hardware implementing this cipher could remain secure, but this came from a culture where non-disclosure of system design was genuinely believed to keep a system secure for longer than would otherwise be possible. The Bletchley Park WW2 Enigma crack was still kept secret until the late seventies and there was a cold war on, because the captured Enigma hardware had been sold on, to new customers who were assured it was still secure and upon whom the UK intended to spy.

          Yes it's a very real shame in many ways that such important discoveries were sat on and languished unused - or used little as a consequence. But not publishing Clifford Cocks' public key system until 1997 didn't have such a negative effect on the development of British computing as keeping the Bletchley Park work under wraps did until the seventies. Even so, the more widely usable parts of the Bletchley Park work were reinvented in UK academic and commercial circles - at the cost of a significant few years of development, enabling IBM to capture most of the early computing market.

          Raymond's Law: "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" adopted by the NSA when the SELinux Mandatory Access Control patch was contributed to the Linux community, and the understanding that cryptographic systems were best selected following public peer review e.g. as with the AES design competition, would take another 20 years or so to be widely adopted as the more sound engineering practice.

    2. Trollslayer
      Mushroom

      Re: Resources

      A small project like this is very useful as a training exercise and making sure cryptographers maintain a range of skills and look at a range of solutions.

      Making snide remarks is not a required skill there BTW.

      1. Alfred
        Unhappy

        Re: Resources

        "Making snide remarks is not a required skill there BTW."

        It is. It really, really is.

  2. The Other Steve
    Megaphone

    You're about a week late

    http://www.enigmaticape.com/blog/pigeon-code-almost-certainly-not-broken/

    @tony rogerson : orly ?

  3. Tank boy
    Pint

    I think I cracked the code!

    If my cipher is correct, it reads something to the effect: Situation Normal. All Fucked Up.

    But I'm sure the Canadians put it in something more polite.

    1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
      Pint

      Re: I think I cracked the code!

      No: it says "Send three and fourpence, were're going to a dance"

      1. Mike Richards Silver badge

        Re: I think I cracked the code!

        No, no, no, it's from a Mrs Obuja from Nigeria whose husband was shot down over Germany and now needs my help to recover THREE MILLION Reichsmarks.

        1. MrT

          Was that at...

          ... the pre-WW2 exchange rate of roughly one million marks for a lump of coal? ;-)

          I have studied this cryptogram extensively (at least 15 minutes) and can categorically state that it says; "Why have you sent tanks and two more pidgeons? The doorman at the hotel wants hard cash - 30d for the evening, including dinner and a tip for the band." I'm not certain of the location, but it seems to tie in with the 1944 tour itinerary of the Paris Conservatoire, Brighton, a copy of which I inherited with my Grandfather's service medals, false teeth and unused ration books.

        2. Simon Westerby 1

          Re: I think I cracked the code!

          Too late ... Kelly's Heroes already liberated it for them...

      2. Fink-Nottle

        Re: I think I cracked the code!

        "Don't panic STOP Send help STOP Pvt Pike has head caught in park gates STOP Don't panic."

  4. JaitcH
    FAIL

    And these idiots at GCGQ are going to ...

    defend Britain from ne'er do wells? Capture spies and potential bomb tossers?

    Could be they are looking for new employees and put this out as they are too cheap to pay for advertisements.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And these idiots at GCGQ are going to ...

      cheap = commanding of meagre remittance

      Perhaps you mean mean?

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch

        Re: And these idiots at GCGQ are going to ...

        Perhaps you mean mean?

        Or, to use a word that cropped up in an article here on the Reg just a few days ago, niggardly.

        1. Androgynous Crackwhore
          Gimp

          Re: And these idiots at GCGQ are going to ...

          Or, to use a word that cropped up in an article here on the Reg just a few days ago, niggardly.

          Oohhh. Controversial!

          I fear I might be cruisn for another bruisn :(

    2. Psyx
      Boffin

      Re: And these idiots at GCGQ are going to ...

      "And these idiots at GCGQ are going to ... defend Britain from ne'er do wells? Capture spies and potential bomb tossers?"

      What exactly is your point? They've been doing a pretty good job to date and have caught quite a lot of them.

      If your point is that GCHQ are inept because they aren't spending the time to crack what should surely be an 'easy' 70 year old piece of code, then you really shouldn't be speaking so candidly about it, because you're not making yourself look clever at all.

      The message was encrypted using a one-time pad, and the ONLY way to break a one-time pad is to have the pad or for the generation methods of the pad to be insecure in the first place. That's rather the point of them and why one-time pads are still secure and that's why they were used, and still are.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-time_pad

      Any muppet can construct trite backronyms for 30% of the message and ignore the other 70%, or even just make up a message. That's not decrypting it: It's making sh1t up. You can plug a super-computer into it and it will churn out an infinite number of 'possible' messages, but the only way of actually sussing it is by using the pad.

  5. Thomas 4
    Thumb Up

    Should send it our way then

    We commentards are pretty shit-hot when it comes to making acronyms. Sometimes they even make sense.

    1. User McUser
      Coat

      With apologies to "Helping Children Through Research And Development"

      When everyone can open my mental Encyclopedia (nicely to allow requisite shouting) all really easy parts require ten Toms yodeling. Sadly, help is the hardest of the ways humans equate natural interests there. Certainly others might eat some, tasting only mushrooms, apples, kale, interesting noodles, goldfish, and certain roots. Otherwise nothing you might see shall open minds. Every time I make ethanol someone tells Hubert "evolution yes!" Eventually varieties endanger news makers and keep everyone sane. "Enough nonsense," says everyone.

      Not sure that makes any sense though...

      1. FrankAlphaXII

        Re: With apologies to "Helping Children Through Research And Development"

        Sounds like something amanfrommars might write.

  6. g e
    Facepalm

    GCHQ Embarrsed by schoolboy oversight

    Claims Canadian is a Syrian double agent

    Says possibly correct person is wrong to save face after missing relatively obvious potential decipher strategy

  7. DrXym Silver badge

    A dubious claim

    Shoehorning codes to fit acronyms of his own invention might be superficially convincing but it doesn't hold up to much scrutiny.

  8. Andrew Moore

    Code cracked...

    "UNDER HEAVY FIRE FROM DASTARDLY, MUTTLEY AND REST OF VULTURE SQUADRON..."

  9. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    AOAKN = "Artillery Observer At 'K' Sector, Normandy"

    CMPNW = "Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working"

    Very unlikely that one takes up the "At" in one code but the "Against" is elided in the other.

    1. Richard 31
      Paris Hilton

      Also AOAKN occurs twice in the message. Why would anyone send the same thing twice in a message?

      1. Lord Voldemortgage

        "Also AOAKN occurs twice in the message. Why would anyone send the same thing twice in a message?"

        Well, possibly, I suppose - if it a series of reports from different positions / observers at different times and each needed to be attributed for example.

        Still this does all sound rather unlikely.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          AOAKN seems to indicate the start and end of the message.

          He also refers to "PABLIZ - Panzer Attack - Blitz", except that given that all the other blocks are of five letters, it probably says PABUZ.

          He also suggested that 27 was the date. Seems to me it is a count of the blocks of letters.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            I can't remember if the Germans were using the word Panzer in WW1, and even if so, were the allies? Churchill said that the original codename was cisterns, and he changed it to tanks, as it was easier to say... Saved us from sounding silly at least.

            I'm pretty sure neither side was using the word Blitzkrieg anyway. Or even Blitz.

            1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
              Paris Hilton

              But it's about WWII anyway?

              1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

                But it's about WWII anyway?

                True. But the codebook is supposed to be from the Royal Flying Corps in WWI So how come it has a code for blitz?

    2. Stevelane

      Against would be redundant in that context. If the code is intended to be in blocks of five letters then "at" although redundant also works as a filler.

  10. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Ludicrous

    I don't understand why BBC has wasted screen space on that flight of fantasy?

    "HVPKD - Have Panzers Know Directions"

    I know that one - "Have spacesuit, will travel".

    Seriously, man, if you know directions - give them to us already, or do you need the credit card details first? In this case you will have to wait a bit as they are awfully difficult to find these days, you know, war and stuff...

    "FNFJW - Final Note [confirming] Found Jerry's Whereabouts"

    Final note? OK, we're listening. Where did you find them?

    "DJHFP - Determined Jerry's Headquarters Front Posts"

    We thought the last one was final, but yes, great, where are they? Do you mean, if we cut the front posts, the roof will collapse on the Wehrmacht HQ or what?

    "CMPNW - Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working"

    No shit, man! So what do you want *us* to do about that? Or are you sending pigeons to request air support?

    "PABLIZ - Panzer Attack - Blitz"

    OK, will send three and fourpence, you're going to a dance...

    "KLDTS - Know [where] Local Dispatch Station"

    Oh, do you? And what do you want in exchange for telling us? Because you must be wanting something, otherwise you would have written the coordinates in the bloody note!

    1. Richard 31
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Ludicrous

      Its not PABLIZ either, if you look at the pic on the BBC page it's clearly PABUZ . The groups of letters are always groups of 5 not groups of 5 and occasionally 6.

      The message was written by a man who wrote his U's in a blocky form. Look at other parts of the message.

  11. Epimetheus

    Does it mean anything?

    My problem with the alleged deciphered/decrypted message is that it doesn't appear to contain much *meaningful* information, beyond a lot of "there are some tanks here", and "there are headquarters here". It's a bit vague. Was this the style of such messages?

    1. Psyx
      Pint

      Re: Does it mean anything?

      "Was this the style of such messages?"

      Quite the opposite: If you are conveying important information via a pair of pigeons you've been carrying, you make darned sure that it's useful information!

      What the article doesn't really note is the guy only 'decrypted' [cough] less than half the message. You'd assume that if he was correct that the missing parts would be grid references, encrypted via one-time pad... which STILL makes absolutely FA sense: The key thing about crucial communications is that they must be crystal clear. And mixing a smattering of ad hoc acronyms based on outdated 30 year old ones is going to simply confuse the hell out of the recipient, who has never met you or knows of your annoying habit of totally ignoring standard practice, and wonders if you've got your pad open on the right page, or if you've been captured and this is 'Jerry' ineptly passing misinformation.

  12. Goa T. Herds
    Meh

    Panzer in a WW 1 Handbook ???

    Correct me if I'm wrong... I thought the term "Panzer" originated in WW2.

    1. Psyx
      Holmes

      Re: Panzer in a WW 1 Handbook ???

      "I thought the term "Panzer" originated in WW2."

      Ummm... no. It means 'armour', so kinda pre-dates that by several hundred years! The first German vehicle called a 'Panzer' [the Panzer 1] was fielded in 1932. However, the word was also being tossed around by German military thinkers and theorists by that time.

      But yeah... it's still a pile of rubbish. And 'Panzer blitz'?! Seriously? As opposed to Blitzkrieg attacks NOT being spearheaded by armour?!? /facepalm.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. NomNomNom

    don't waste your time

    i wasted a weekend decrypting it only to discover it's a rickroll

    1. Androgynous Crackwhore
      Gimp

      Re: don't waste your time

      We're no strangers to love

      You know the rules ... and so do I

      A full commitment's what I'm ... thinkin' of

      You wouldn't get this from any other guy

      I just wanna tell you how I'm feeling

      Gotta make you ... understand

      Never gonna give you up

      Never gonna let you down

      Never gonna run around and desert you

      Never gonna make you cry

      Never gonna say goodbye

      Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

      We've known each other ... for so long

      Your heart's been aching, but ... you're too shy to say it

      Inside we both know what's been ... goin' on

      We know the game and we're ... gonna play it

      And if you ask me how I'm feeling

      Don't tell me you're to ... blind to see

      Never gonna give you up

      Never gonna let you down

      Never gonna run around and desert you

      Never gonna make you cry

      Never gonna say goodbye

      Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

      Never gonna give you up

      Never gonna let you down

      Never gonna run around and desert you

      Never gonna make you cry

      Never gonna say goodbye

      Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

      Oooooooooh ... give you up

      Oooooooooh ... give you up

      Never gonna give never gonna give

      Give you up

      Never gonna give never gonna give

      Give you up

      We've known each other ... for so long

      Your heart's been aching, but ... you're too shy to say it

      Inside we both know what's been ... goin' on

      We know the game and we're ... gonna play it

      I just wanna tell you how I'm feeling

      Gotta make you ... understand

      Never gonna give you up

      Never gonna let you down

      Never gonna run around and desert you

      Never gonna make you cry

      Never gonna say goodbye

      Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

      Never gonna give you up

      Never gonna let you down

      Never gonna run around and desert you

      Never gonna make you cry

      Never gonna say goodbye

      Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

      Never gonna give you up

      Never gonna let you down

      Never gonna run around and desert you

      Never gonna make you cry

      Never gonna say goodbye

      Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

    2. asdf
      Trollface

      Re: don't waste your time

      Rickrolls are still a lot more pleasant than goatse's or meatspin.com

      1. Androgynous Crackwhore
        Gimp

        Re: don't waste your time

        Rickrolls are still a lot more pleasant than goatse's or meatspin.com

        Indeed...

        http://tinyurl.com/Best0fAll

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A friend came up with this

    flash germa nsare oknic ebunc hofgu yswho haveb eenmi sunde rstoo dfren chare ungra teful treac herou sprat swere quest permi ssion tojoi ngerm ansin defeat offro ggies flash

    1. CASIOMS-8V

      My god

      It was Cthulhu all along

  16. Jon Green
    FAIL

    One simple proof that the "decrypt" is bogus

    "PABLIZ". And that's it. That's all we need in order to demonstrate that the so-called decrypt has been invented, and fitted to the text.

    The original cyphertext was written in pentablocks: five-character groups. There should have been (and were) no six-character groups. The would-be decrypter's "LI" is a "U" - written in the approved fashion using squared corners, so that there's no ambiguity with 'V'. There are other examples in the same text.

  17. Chris 3

    YHBT YHL HAND

    1. Some Beggar

      OMG BBQ GSTQ

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was Canada one of the Commonwealth countries that we encouraged to use the "totally uncrackable Enigma machines" who were then pretty p-ed off when 20-30 years later details of what Bletchley Park had achieved started to be revealed and they realized their "uncrackable" message had probably been readable by MI6 all the time.

    1. dotdavid
      Thumb Up

      Perhaps they've already cracked the pigeon code and are just withholding the solution in case it has tactical importance in our forthcoming war wi... I've said too much.

  19. TeeCee Gold badge
    Facepalm

    All I can say is:

    WALOB

    (What a load of bollocks)

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've cracked it too, but my interpretation says that the earth will be destroyed on 21st December, but it doesn't give a time.

    1. Psyx
      Pint

      Typical: Sergeants are always in the bloody know before anyone else!

  21. Wim Ton

    If a one time pad was used, all plaintexts are equally probable unless you find the key. The sender surely has destroyed his copy after sending, so hope that the intended receiver still has his copy...

    1. Psyx

      "so hope that the intended receiver still has his copy."

      I doubt that every one-time pad used in WW2 was retained, especially given that it'd be on paper records.

  22. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Coat

    It's a message from Yossarian

    Just "CTH22" encoded over and over with a stream cipher.

  23. Michael Shaw
    Facepalm

    What is the most likely clear text?

    Is it

    (a) a genuine military message, and the back story truely stands up.

    or

    (b) a recruitment drive at GCHQ.

    Based on what I don't know, I'd choose (b).

    1. Psyx
      Facepalm

      Re: What is the most likely clear text?

      "Based on what I don't know, I'd choose (b)"

      Occam's razor says that you're wrong.

      It was found on a dead, rotting pigeon in a chimney. The discoverer went to news outlets about it. GCHQ have said "don't bother it's a one-time pad", and indeed such messages WERE sent with a one-time pad, AND GCHQ actually bother to tell people that things are recruitment tests.

      Where'as your recruitment drive theory requires an HR bod at GCHQ to suggest planting a message on a rotting pigeon in a chimney and manipulating the entire UK press and waste hours ploughing through wacky backronyms from morons without in any way appealing to a target audience.

  24. Cameron Colley

    F U N E X?

    F U E 10 D M?

  25. Rampant Spaniel

    Can I Play?

    CMPNW = Canuks Make Pretty Nasty Whisky

    Poor I know lol Lets see what you can do!

    1. Peter W.

      Re: Can I Play?

      I'll grant you that one (as a Canuck)... only good whiskey comes out of Scotland.

      1. asdf
        Pint

        Re: Can I Play?

        >only good whiskey comes out of Scotland

        only good pure malt whiskey comes out of Scotland, but if you don't mind some corn in your whiskey nobody does sour mash Bourbon like us Americans. Who do you think smooths out the freshly made oak barrels for everyone else including the Scots?

        1. asdf
          Happy

          Re: Can I Play?

          >more than 90 percent of scotch is aged in once-used bourbon barrels — so there’s a little bit of bourbon whiskey in every drop of scotch.

          Merkin pride is not always about smart bombs.

  26. cortland

    The choice is between silk and cyanide...

    The last four words (part of a conversation he recounts) are the title of Leo Marks' book about his time as SOE's top coder and the upgrading of easily and too often broken agent codes to more secure ones (eventually to one time pads) printed on highly combustible silk, a strategic and hard to justify material, thus the title.

    http://www.amazon.com/Between-Silk-Cyanide-Codemakers-1941-1945/dp/068486780X

  27. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Has anyone tried

    using it as a licence key for Office ?

  28. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    It was actually nonsense right from the start and complied by some poor conscript knowing he had no chance of survival as a final rage against the government. He intended that they waste as much time and money as possible trying to decipher it.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why...

    ...would he encrypt his name in the message (or, if he didn't, where did this Canadian chap get the name from?) If they knew who the message was from, why bother telling them?. If they didn't, then how would they know how to decode it? If just anybody had access to the same method of encryption and the same key then how secure could that be?

    1. Psyx
      Facepalm

      Re: Why...

      Have you bothered to look at the original message?

  30. Dave Bell
    Boffin

    This guy might have pinpointed Sergeant Stott, and if the link to the pigeon IDs can be confirmed we might get a better context for the message.

    Problem 1: The only battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers to serve in Normany did not arrive until the 29th June, though it was part of the 59th Infantry Division which started arriving on the 27th. It makes the timing odd.

    This does leave open the possibility that he was attached to a different unit. It seems that soldiers who served in the Parachute Regiment are listed under their original Regiment.

    Problem 2: There are only 8 soldiers named Stott buried in France in WW2 (source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission website), but none of them are recorded as Sergeants. If it was an acting rank, it might not be recorded, but the only Lancashire Fusilier was Fusilier William Stott, 3454758, and it's very unlikely that a fusilier would be rated as acting Sergeant.

    I am not convinced that the correct Sgt Stott has been found.

  31. Simon Westerby 1
    Pint

    He was just tryoing ot install his copy of Windows '45

    Is it me or do all those 5 letter acronymns just llok like a Windows Licence key

    HVPKD - FNFJW - DJHFP - CMPNW - KLDTS

  32. KBeee Silver badge

    WGASA

  33. Pete 8
    Terminator

    Yet,

    ...if One were to be able to decode the message, One might need to consider that the decoder/key holder(s) face risks.

    As with any 'leak' of information, there are stakeholders (keyholders), their agendas, and potentially unwanted and to-be-avoided on-peril-of-death consequences of crossing paths with said stakeholders, who, if not pidgeoning positions of lowly legions, probably preferred prime party pontificate prose prevail permanently private, potentially posing great risks, both to said seer of the then unwound thread, and it's tailor's tribe.

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