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National Cryptologic Museum

Posted by Samuel Arbesman  October 22, 2010 02:39 PM

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The National Security Agency has an associated National Cryptologic Museum and it looks amazing. Writing for TheAtlantic.com, Oliver Hulland explores this museum, where such areas as mathematics, history, linguistics, and technology are combined into a paranoid and secretive whole.

The highlight of the museum is the functional Enigma: an electro-mechanical rotor machine used for the encryption and decryption of messages by the Germans in World War II. The simple and nondescript machine is capable of producing 10^114 possible configurations, a feat the Germans wrongly believed would overwhelm any brute force attack needed to break the code. The museum's machine, unlike those on display elsewhere, can be used by visitors interested in encrypting and decrypting their own messages. The Allied efforts in breaking the code pulled in Alan Turing among other British cryptologists, as well as the code breaking Bombe machines produced by Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES).

Make sure to also check out the wonderful gallery of photos that Hulland has compiled, showcasing the exhibits which include everything from security propaganda posters to a device that uses a cipher created by Thomas Jefferson when he was the French ambassador.


(Oliver Hulland / TheAtlantic.com)

And before going to the museum, make sure to read Neal Stephenson's sprawling cryptological novel of ideas Cryptonomicon.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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