[Cryptography] Brute force circa 1939

Henry Baker hbaker1 at pipeline.com
Sun Nov 11 22:30:19 EST 2018

I just watched the 1939 U.S. movie "Espionage Agent" (Google it), in which some of the dialog goes like this:

"Ever since the World War [I], we've been trying to perfect a machine that would encode and decode automatically."

"This machine offers a variation of 2372 entirely original codes -- 2371 chances of being wrong -- even if he had a machine to work with."  (I'm not kidding -- those are the actual words & numbers from the movie.)

Even 80 years of Moore's Law won't make 11 bits (or 9 bits, since 2372=2^2*593) look very good for 1939.

Whoever from the FBI was advising this 1939 movie (Comey could only wish to have done so well!) in a technical capacity must have been ridiculously worried about giving away something to Germany, because even amateur cryptographers -- e.g., Edgar Allan Poe -- would have burst out laughing in the middle of this movie when it aired (showed ??) in 1939.  But as the Enigma Machine demonstrated, "2372 codes" must have also made the Germans burst out laughing when they saw it.  But perhaps that was part of the FBI plan -- convince the Germans that the U.S. was hopelessly naive about crypto and lull them into a sense of invincibility while Turing did his work.

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