back to article Soviet 'Enigma' cipher machine sells for $22k at collapsed museum's exhibits auction

A Soviet equivalent of Nazi Germany's Enigma cipher machine has sold for more than double its auction asking price – while a secret camera disguised as a pack of cigarettes went for nearly $20,000. A Fialka M-125-3M 10-rotor cipher code machine complete with accessories sold for $22,400 at a US auction held over the weekend, …

  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Game time

    For some odd reason I looked at that keyboard and wanted to play Mah Jong.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Game time

      These days if you want to send an encoded message you can just post a video of a Mah Jong game.

  2. Ol'Peculier

    Spy museums

    What is it with DC and spy museums? I've been to the International Spy Museum twice, first time I thought I'd made a mistake and wasted my money, but it is actually quite interesting, once you've got over the annoying introduction...

    Still had the same problem all the Smithsonian's had, with masses of kids rushing through at warp speed though.

    1. Oh Matron!

      Re: Spy museums

      which is why the Uhar-hazy is much better- Being a big of a trek.... I mean, niot only does it have a space shuttle, F-4, concorde, enola gay, but also a de havilland chipmunk :-)

      1. Ol'Peculier

        Re: Spy museums

        Very true, and even has a (very) small display on Sir George Cayley.

        But regarding Concorde, better off going up the road and seeing the BA one that's parked no Intrepid that you can actually go inside and be given a talk about her.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Spy museums

      "[...] with masses of kids rushing through at warp speed though."

      On a visit to the London Science Museum there were lots of school party kids rushing about. It was instructive to see how many interactive exhibits were out-of-order. The kids had no idea of treating the controls gently - they just pounded them.

      I get the same problem with my Xmas model train display. Small kids pound the window or kick at the mock wall. Some little sod has started peeling the "brick" wallpaper off in places. Luckily the window is strong polycarbonate rather than glass. Puts me off the idea of offering any physical interactive controls.

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Spy museums

        "

        The kids had no idea of treating the controls gently - they just pounded them.

        "

        Yes, that's what kids do. A fact that the people who designed the interactive exhibitions should have known and taken into account. After all, much of the science museum is specifically tailored for children, which I applaud. Even if only 1 child in 10000 is inspired by an exhibit, that 1 child may grow up to make the next major scientific or technological breakthrough. Or design a better mousetrap.

        It is not particularly difficult to make controls & exhibits sturdy enough to withstand being operated by over-exuberant 10 year olds. Maybe seek the assistance of a designer from Fisher-Price !

    3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Spy museums

      Kids rushing around can be *slightly* annoying especially if they are noisy, but there's no reason why they should stop you from taking your time and properly examining the exhibits. The annoyance is most probably more to do with your mindset than really interfering with your enjoyment. I'd rather that the occasional kid is inspired by something they find interesting than having children banned from such places.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Spy museums

        I find having _my_ kids rushing around really annoying. I don't get time to have a proper look at any of the exhibits lest I get moaned at for taking too long.

        I found the Tangmere aviation museum is a good compromise. Small enough that you can't loose the kids there and enough stuff to climb on/into that they don't get bored too quickly.

    4. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Spy museums

      Next time you're in DC, head out to the Beltway and stop by the NSA Cryptologic Museum outside the gates of that august organization. Free admission, and a gift shop. Everyone needs an NSA logo coffee mug.

      https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/

  3. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Smithsonian comments

    It is somewhat interesting that the Smithsonian museum criticised this now defunct museum for ignoring the cruelty of the Soviet regime.

    Does the Smithsonian include exhibits on 'extraordinary rendition', the CIA destabilising Caribbean, Latin and South American governments which wanted their people to be paid a proper wage for working for US companies, or torture, sorry, enhanced interrogation, techniques at Guantanamo Bay? Or even the coup in Iran that deposed a democratically elected government that inconveniently reckoned Iranians should 'own' Iranian oil.

    Just asking, you understand, I still have nightmares from visiting the torture exhibits at the Salzburg Festung museum (eek!). And of course the UK's record on human rights leaves much to be desired (concentration camps in South Africa, hunting Australian Aborigines for 'sport', massacre in India by General Dyer, internment without trial in Northern Ireland in the late c20 etc.)

    1. AcceptableName

      Re: Smithsonian comments

      The Smithsonian doesn't have an FBI Spy Museum or a CIA Spy Museum like the former KGB Spy Museum.

      Look what I found in the Smithsonian collection:

      https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1403228

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Smithsonian comments

        Good find, an Amnesty International poster protesting about Guantanamo bay, but I see that the 'location' is described as "Currently not on view", still it is better than nothing.

        1. AcceptableName

          Re: Smithsonian comments

          Nothing is currently on view now due to the pandemic.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Smithsonian comments

      I dunno. Maybe they didn't mention that because it had absolutely no relevance whatsoever to the subject under discussion?

      I know that there is a trend on shitter for everything said to be criticised for not mentioning something else entirely irrelevant that is ${arsehat}'s pet hobby horse, but let's try to remain above that here, eh?

      @The upvoters: Altogether now; "Baaaaaaa".

  4. Mike Richards Silver badge

    The Thing

    The Thing is deeply fascinating. A passive electronic bug developed by Léon Theremin - better known for making the 1950s sound weird.

    There's a nice short BBC podcast about The Thing and its links to RFID here:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0008jds

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Thing

      There's a fantastic biography of Theremin by Albert Glinksky. After his initial inventions in the tumultuous events at the end of WWI, he was sent to the West to supposedly show the capitalist world how clever Soviet scientists could be. Theremin made the most of this freedom, living the high life in France and the USA where he continued inventing and became something of a ladies man. He was then ordered back to the USSR, and disappeared into the Gulag. It was while in a prison research centre like the one described in a Solzhenitsyn novel that he came up with The Thing and other espionage devices. Finally freed after Stalin died he lived in almost total obscurity until he was tracked down and belatedly given the credit he deserved for his earlier inventions.

    2. CuChulainn

      Re: The Thing

      And there's a very interesting analysis of it here.

      It's so simple, and yet so clever.

      He also invented that Theremin musical instrument the Beach Boys used on Good Vibrations (where you wave your hands near it).

      1. RaeStr

        Re: The Thing

        Actually, it's a variant on the theremin on "Good Vibrations" rather than the real deal. See, for instance: https://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2013/02/07/171385175/no-it-wasn-t-a-theremin-on-good-vibrations-remembering-paul-tanner?t=1613643091744

        Now, where's the pedant icon ;-)

    3. MarkSitkowski

      Re: The Thing

      Pity they couldn't include the American eagle from the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. That had a listening device installed in the 1960's by a 'cleaner' - or whatever he called himself.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: by a 'cleaner' - or whatever he called himself.

        "Victor", if I remember correctly, is the name for cleaners... :-)

  5. Dave559 Silver badge

    Keyboard layout

    Interesting that the Latin letters on the keyboard are in (sort of) QWERTZ layout, although Q and H seem to have gone walkies (perhaps not needed, and why the keyboard also has Latin letters is perhaps an interesting question itself?).

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: Keyboard layout

      Not really, the KGB operated in enough countries that used the Latin rather than Cyrillic (and various offshoots) characters that I'd be more surprised if they weren't included.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Keyboard layout

      Depending on who they planned on using it, they had many satellites using the Latin alphabet. Poland, Romania, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary all used the Latin alphabet. There were also languages spoken internally which would have used Latin characters including the Baltic languages. Cuba and Vietnam too, but I think this machine predates the relationships. Also, they might have wanted to be able to encode items received in foreign languages in other countries.

      1. Dave559 Silver badge

        Re: Keyboard layout

        That's true. I guess I was just naïvely assuming that they would have been using Russian as the lingua franca for their spy communications nevertheless.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

    0pijMv0PI5ODohIZAVaPuPal01aHAnYJIXGbUPWV

    UvgFqZuJOBY1MDotg5c5CvMzeViHMv6RuL6r0dSf

    QBYxUlEta3Knebm16HSjaRoJ8PWRwlwxWhIDMFwD

    QHcp85av2P4dwN4NyBaVuBKLmVKP8VeJgpujSLuR

    o9uRyjQjohwPGLuDO3E9KbAVgN6DOXUpM149ANgD

    OrkBmvQz4lSpAzSxS12BIBC5CBipK5qJaPSRmPwN

    aNsHalA3G5SLeJuf4b61mFIVgPALovCrwBEjqvA1

    ihMvcDEtCJoZ4Do3qROZgb6XSneZWLGXWBkNkloz

    WHWTGx4H0nCruXiVQn4rQzoLo7e32bc5kbCZQRQr

    AT0N6ZQpAP2JYDcZ0vsVwDcf85szyfSJSt0TmByz

    m3iJQrCXkD83gDs5A3slqb01OJWXEpOvepI5MhS5

    w1OhCliV8RcbKBc1QLslezSH2V8lEZCnuhSv0RIJ

    otSrsj4xSnMzGhULsTA7SZ2vonARuXU5SJofwPep

    qbG3utC3idaNyzK5ORg30Norcj2hKhAjonERCB4p

    kVE52lALsD8X8TK3qBM9yTsvkjYZopqX6tW5KzYL

    qjeTIjiJazefITAZMni9ANctub8HwX4nIJ4ZmxsZ

    8lOTAh6Z27chWBY1yLi9sTMNYBylmB4rAvE1MzgT

    gJMJufmJWXiNU72BgvEvK7Avc7ydW3c1IPqpm5U1

    Ud4x0ZSx89eTyHAhC1yNEbqVYJ6X0tsbC9WT0Jyz

    izEvOruHoLI5SNM1gbs3A7YpqdYlY7u9wX4ZYXs7

    yjMRKRU9shOX2Bm9mXeJwxOjsVYfmzW9QdGReFGp

    EnYH8bqNKbAfCfs9

    *

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

      Ten lines of C does that too. What's your point? Other than filling the comments section with junk? You know nobody's going to decode it, because for all we know, you instead ran one line of Python:

      base64.b64encode(ssl.RAND_bytes(big_number))

      Also, we have no interest. Do you have a relevant point?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

        @doublelayer

        "...a relevant point....

        OK....."junk". OK......".....nobody's going to decode it...."

        But that is EXACTLY the point. All this cr*p about "end-to-end encryption", Signal, Telegraph, Proton Mail, etc, etc.

        Some of us are doing OUR OWN encryption......and "nobody's going to decode it".

        Are you interested now?

        1. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge

          Re: Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

          > doing OUR OWN encryption

          Umm, no. Because Roll Your Own Encryption is likely to be poorly implemented.

          1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            Re: Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

            "

            Because Roll Your Own Encryption is likely to be poorly implemented.

            "

            Probably. But even if it is not all that secure, there will not be any tools to use to attempt to break it like there are for popular encryption programs.Thus the attacker would need to have a good knowledge of cryptography and probably access to the source code in order to be able to recognise and exploit weaknesses in the implementation. There are relatively few of those people. Also, not being generated by a known program, it probably does not fit any known format, so less likely to be recognisable as being encrypted data in the first place.

        2. stiine Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

          No.

        3. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

          "Some of us are doing OUR OWN encryption......and 'nobody's going to decode it'. Are you interested now?"

          No. You fail to realize why nobody's going to decode it. It's not because your cryptography is the best out there. It might be, though I have my doubts. It's because nobody cares what you said. Find someone who does care what you encoded and they will try. They may also succeed. Judging from other posts you've made, they may also just bypass your cryptography and attack the endpoints, because your understanding of security seems to have holes in it. Either way, you'll find out firsthand whether you know what you're doing or not. This way won't help. Nor will you successfully brag to anybody, because we know enough to know it's not impressive.

        4. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

          Some of us are doing OUR OWN encryption......and "nobody's going to decode it".

          ...says someone who has never read Bruce Schneier:

          https://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram/

          (or is using a one-time pad)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

        @doublelayer

        Other aspects in which you "have no interest".....

        ....there's the "metadata" that snoops are so very interested in collecting.

        Which AC sent the message via El Reg?

        Who read (and decrypted) the message?

        How hard is that metadata to assemble?

        Is the message time critical?

        .....and those are problems when the message is sent in public (via El Reg). Is the metadata available AT ALL when sent using Signal, Telegraph, Proton Mail, etc. etc?

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

          What are you on about? None of those things were mentioned in the original message, my reply, or the original reply to mine. Nor are they relevant to the original topic. Also, some of them don't make sense.

          "Which AC sent the message via El Reg?": They could just make El Reg tell them that.

          "Who read (and decrypted) the message?": I know that one. Nobody.

          "How hard is that metadata to assemble?": What metadata? The last two questions? Or something else?

          "Is the message time critical?": Depends on the content, now doesn't it? Not metadata then.

          "Is the metadata available AT ALL when sent using Signal, Telegraph, Proton Mail, etc. etc?": Using your definition of metadata, I.E. who sent, who received, what does the message say ... yes, it is.

    2. very angry man

      Re: Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

      The trick is DEcoding it!

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Interesting.....but 1000 lines of C can get you something similar.......

        Indeed, I have come across several wonderful 'encrypt-only' algorithms (which are not the same as hash functions) which defeat even the designer to decipher, including, sadly one of my own. :o(

        Still never mind, live and learn.

        (Although I have to admit I only needed about 80 lines of C, what is done with the other 920 lines I can only imagine.)

  7. Mike 16 Silver badge

    How about the "Selectric bug"?

    An ur-keylogger.

    https://www.cryptomuseum.com/covert/bugs/selectric/index.htm

    I have to wonder if one was included in the auction. I'd bid more for one of those than for Che's high-school report card. If I could afford to bid at all.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: How about the "Selectric bug"?

      The fun thing is that that approach still works on modern keyboards and you can build one yourself. In fact, if you prime it with some information about likely languages, you could get a self-training one. I'm sure they already have those at various agencies, but a relatively cheap board can have all the necessary components for it.

  8. AcceptableName

    The Register blog calls the Smithsonian Institution "The US Smithsonian Museum".

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Lots of people called Smith outside the USA - some of them might also have a museum

      1. Mike 16 Silver badge

        Smith amd Smithson

        The Smithsonian Museum in the U.S. is actually named for a guy name Smithson. I nice blend of "Your last name is your father's name + son or daughter" (See, Iceland) with "Your last name denotes your trade or skill".

        Perhaps ElReg felt that "Your last name denotes where your live, or came from" (see, Leonardo da Vinci) had missed out on the fun and added that bit.

  9. OssianScotland
    Headmaster

    Instagrammable, interactive exhibits...

    ... with less context and labelling than an academic historian might have enjoyed

    So just like pretty much every major museum, at least in the UK, then.

    I took my family to the IWM and the Science Museum a few years ago, wanting to revisit childhood memories of lots and lots of information. Instead got minimal labelling, staff who knew nothing and gave me a total blank when I asked where I could find out more ("Try Google" was the standard staff response).

    Honourable mention to the RAF museum, who still had real information including brief service histories, and links to find out more - a lot more - online.

    (Obvious icon, since Paris didn't seem to fit anywhere....)

    1. Binraider Bronze badge

      Re: Instagrammable, interactive exhibits...

      Regrettably museum staff that know their exhibits aren’t terribly common. I’m sure minimum-wage jobs only existing to permit basic survival is something to do with that.

      There are of course exceptions. The Tank Museum is highly recommended; the good people there are incredibly knowledgeable about the provenance of their exhibits. While we can’t visit in lockdown (and it is bloody miles away from anywhere) their blogs have been a source of bemusement for the past year.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Instagrammable, interactive exhibits...

        Quite often the staff you see at museums and art galleries are students working to get some extra funds. I've had some interesting conversations with some of them about the exhibits, but anyone with great detailed knowledge would be a professor, and not spending a Wednesday* afternoon standing around the Hayward gallery in London wondering how long before they can have a pee.

        *Note - The Hayward Gallery on the South Bank in London, when open, is actually closed on Tuesdays, which almost always catches me out.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Instagrammable, interactive exhibits...

          In some museums the staff are often unpaid volunteers who are there trying to build up experience in order to apply for a job as a minimum-wage worker there. Working in a museum as an archivist or curator is often a highly-prized job where the supply of potential workers far outstrips the demand. It can be a really tough career to break into.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Instagrammable, interactive exhibits...

        >The Tank Museum is highly recommended;

        And their youtube channel.

        The SAAB tank which only needed one crew, but he would be lonely so they added a 2nd driver, only facing backward with a periscope mirror to drive

      3. CuChulainn

        Re: Instagrammable, interactive exhibits...

        The Tank Museum is highly recommended

        Definitely. And the fact it is also in spitting distance of Lulworth Cove and the Dorset AONB makes it well worth a long weekend trip.

    2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Instagrammable, interactive exhibits...

      That's because the qualification for working in a museum now is a Masters in Museum Studies (actual title may vary) on top of a social science degree. Hardly any "curators" know anything about the exhibits other than how to arrange them to look pretty together. The National Museum of Scotland is bad for this, but the nadir is the truly appalling Riverside Museum in Glasgow, which is basically one of Zaha Hadid's awful buildings decorated with the contents of a closed museum. Nice to look at but God help you if you actually want to find out about anything.

      When I was a student I went to a talk by the then director of the Science Museum and asked what I should do if I wanted a job there. "First get a doctorate in a science subject, then call us" was his reply. How times have changed.

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