Mar 6, 2017 | By Benedict
Engineers from the UK’s Government Communications Centre (HMGCC) are using 3D printing to recreate the Lorenz SZ42, an “unbreakable” cipher machine used by Hitler and the German Army during World War II. Only four of the machines still exist.
Lorenz SZ42, Hitler's "unbreakable" cipher machine
During the Second World War, various versions of the Lorenz cipher were used by the German Army to encrypt strategic communications. These machines, each of which contained 12 wheels with a different number of pins, were attached to standard teleprinters in order to turn readable German text into code. A duplicate Lorenz cipher fitted to a teleprinter at the receiving end would then turn the encrypted message back into German.
Originally considered unbreakable by the Germans, the Lorenz cipher was eventually cracked by British codebreakers at Bletchley Park, the UK’s central codebreaking site, in Buckinghamshire. Because the Lorenz ciphers were used by the Germans to encode extremely important strategic information, Britain’s decrypting of the machine’s messages was integral to the eventual Allied victory.
Around 200 units of the Lorenz SZ42, one of four versions of the machine, were used during the war, but only four survive. One of those four SZ42s, a machine that was used by the German Army in Norway, was recently given to the UK’s National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park (TNMOC) on long-term loan from the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum. There, the machine will be receiving some important maintenance work. Because the cipher is missing some components, including a motor, engineers from HMGCC are using 3D scanning and 3D printing technology to rebuild it.
Lorenz teleprinter, wheel setting guide, and SZ42 cipher
UK veterans Betty O'Connell and Irene Dixon operated the Colossus to break Lorenz code during WWII
Lorenz SZ42 cipher in the USA with motor (top) intact
The exciting project will involve two key stages: first, using 3D scanning equipment to reverse engineer an existing Lorenz motor from a different machine, and second, 3D printing a replica of that motor which can then be fitted to the recently borrowed SZ42. “The HMGCC team will take three-dimensional images of an existing Lorenz motor and then reconstruct it using 3D printing techniques,” explained John Whetter of TNMOC. “Externally, the motor will be almost indistinguishable from an original.”
The Lorenz machine receiving 3D printing maintenance was seized by the Norwegian secret services following the conclusion of the war. Soon, with a 3D printed motor fitted to it, the machine will be used by staff at TNMOC to demonstrate how code from the Lorenz was eventually deciphered by the British codebreaking machine Colossus, which was designed by research telephone engineer Tommy Flowers and mathematician Max Newman, using contributions from cryptanalyst Alan Turing.
Wheels of the Lorenz SZ42
Ablesetafel 40 or Spruchtafel, used to determine Lorenz wheel settings
Lorenz teleprinters like these were linked to the ciphers
A HMGCC spokesman commented: “The wartime work at Bletchley Park, including breaking the Lorenz cipher, was instrumental in the birth of modern computing and the development of what we now call cyber security. HMGCC looks forward to its young apprentices reconstructing this machine in support of TNMOC's wider work to explain why Bletchley Park's legacy still matters today.”
According to TNMOC, the reconstructed Lorenz SZ42 cipher containing the 3D printed motor could be ready by summer 2017.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
Maybe you also like:
- T-Bone Cape motion control board launches on Indiegogo
- New extruder could lower costs of 3D printing cellular structures for drug testing
- New Ninja Printer Plate for consumer 3D printing
- mUVe3D releases improved Marlin firmware for all 3D printers
- Zecotek plans HD 3D display for 3D printers
- Add a smart LCD controller to your Robo3D printer
- Maker Kase: a handy cabinet for 3D printers
- Heated bed for ABS printing with the Printrbot Simple XL
- Next gen all metal 3D printer extruder from Micron
- Pico all-metal hotend 100% funded in 48 hours, B3 announces Stretch Goal
- Create it REAL announces first 3D printing Real Time Processor
- A larger and more powerful 3D printer extruder on Kickstarter