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Modern PCs to challenge WWII codebreaker

The return of the Colossus. This is a story in a story in a story—which picks up with the restoration on one of the famous British code-breaking computers of World War II: The Colossus. In celebrations of the event, the restorers decided to hold a competition last Thursday and Friday, pitting the Colossus against individuals using whatever they had at their disposal. An encrypted code would be generated and the winner would be the first to crack the code.

This first link has three wonderful pictures of the restored Colossus along with the story of rebuilding it over the last fourteen years.

Modern PCs to challenge WWII codebreaker | CNET News.com
colossus2.jpgColossus computers were built during WWII at British codebreaking center Bletchley Park, where the National Museum of Computing is now housed. Billed as the first electronic computers, 10 Colossi were eventually built. Sale and his team have spent 14 years rebuilding a Mark II Colossus, which is now installed at Bletchley Park.

“It took 14 years to rebuild, just because of lack of information,” said Sale. “All the drawings (of Colossi) were burnt in 1960, so all we had to go on were six black-and-white photos and 10 fragments of circuit diagrams. The machine has 2,500 valves, so it was a challenge piecing it all together.”

The competition has a winner, and it’s not Colossus. An individual, working with a customized program, quickly cracked the code transmitted for the contest. The code was generated to simulate an actual code from WWII, but Colossus had some problems picking up the signal. As of Friday when this latest report was written, Colossus was still churning away, working toward a solution to the encrypted message.

German man beats WWII Colossus code cracker | CNET News.com
In the Cipher Challenge, a competition run by the U.K.’s National Museum of Computing on Thursday and Friday, the cipher-breaking computer Colossus had to decode encrypted radio communications intercepted from Paderborn in Germany. Competing against Colossus, which took 14 years to rebuild, were radio enthusiasts from across Europe, who had to beat the WWII code cracker using whatever computing means they had at their disposal.

The winner was Joachim Schüth, from Bonn, who completed the task using software he wrote himself.

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