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NSA Releases Secret Pre-History of Computers 167

Posted by samzenpus
from the please-forget-about-that-other-stuff dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The National Security Agency has declassified an eye-opening pre-history of computers used for code-breaking between the 1930s and 1960s. The 344 page report, entitled It Wasn't All Magic: The Early Struggle to Automate Cryptanalysis (pdf), it is available on the Government Attic web site. Government Attic has also just posted a somewhat less declassified NSA compendium from 1993: A Collection of Writings on Traffic Analysis. (pdf)"
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NSA Releases Secret Pre-History of Computers

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  • by Tokolosh (1256448) on Monday June 24, 2013 @09:43AM (#44091759)

    to the man in the Russian airport.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 24, 2013 @10:01AM (#44091969)

      What man? The media is now reporting that Snowden never made it to Moscow. In fact, they are now reporting that there is no record of a US citizen with that name, anymore. It was all a big misunderstanding. It was just an intelligence training exercise.

      • by Megane (129182)
        You mean it wasn't just a viral advertisement for next year's "average guy hunted down by the government for knowing too much" blockbuster movie?
        • You mean it wasn't just a viral advertisement for next year's "average guy hunted down by the government for knowing too much" blockbuster movie?

          "Enemy of the State 2: Electric Boogaloo"

    • by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Monday June 24, 2013 @10:08AM (#44092045)
      All part of damage control - got to raise public opinion quick smart. You have no idea how many talking points have been written in the last week or so for the media employees (talk show and news anchors etc) to sprout off over in the next few days/months. Muddy, confuse, distract... ahh, propaganda...
      • by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@noSPAM.carpanet.net> on Monday June 24, 2013 @10:32AM (#44092329) Homepage

        That is exactly what I was thinking. Since their secret program just blew up like semtex in a times square car bomb, they need to do some quick spin control. Look how we move tech forward people! Don't look at what we are doing now....look at new stuff we want to tell you about the past!

        Don't pay any mind to the way we spread our own brand of terror like anthrax spores through the sears tower ventilation system. Just pay attention to the muslamic terror groups that we want you to be afraid of, thats the terror that we are trying to create here for our purposes.

      • by EuclideanSilence (1968630) on Monday June 24, 2013 @01:16PM (#44093915)

        Well I for one am convinced. Thank god these files were classified, or else terrorists would know all about how to break WW2 codes. What if Snowden had leaked this? People could have died. People would have died.

        What other things besides obsolete WW2 cryptanalysis could the NSA be keeping from terrorists? That's why it's so important for us to trust them.

      • by k6mfw (1182893)

        All part of damage control -

        I was thinking all of sudden there's lots of discussion regarding missile attack on TWA 800 (I thought that whole event was pretty much settled by now). Maybe part of filling up media time to reduce time talking about recent NSA abuses.

      • by Cinder6 (894572)

        If that's their goal, it seems like an odd way to go about it. "Hey, look at our rich history of codebreaking!" does a poor job of distracting me from PRISM, since one of my concerns is that the NSA may be able to break the encryption used in various cloud services. Releasing such a document only serves to reinforce the idea that the NSA has been breaking codes for a long, long time before PRISM ever existed, and that is an uncomfortable thought, given the recent debacle.

        If, on the other hand, the headline

    • by ibwolf (126465) on Monday June 24, 2013 @10:19AM (#44092179)

      Pay no attention to the man in the Russian airport.

      No, they want you to pay attention to him, to this, to ANYTHING except for what they (the US government and the NSA in particular) are actually doing with regards to you personal liberties. That is what they are trying to distract you from thinking about.

      • by ahabswhale (1189519) on Monday June 24, 2013 @11:14AM (#44092727)

        War is Peace
        Freedom is Slavery
        Ignorance is Strength

        (I tried to do all caps like in the book but /. wouldn't let me)

        • War is Peace
          Freedom is Slavery
          Ignorance is Strength

          (I tried to do all caps like in the book but /. wouldn't let me)

          One difference, I think between the book and today: As far as I can tell, the constant monitoring (telescreens) were something only used on Party members. I don't think that proles were completely bereft of them, but theirs were public screens designed to display the progress of the war, ration updates, and so forth. Not installed in prole residences.

          Proles were victims, just as much as Party members, but they weren't prone to being singled out. Mostly they just happened to be in the wrong places when bombs

        • by antdude (79039)

          Which book is that?

        • WAR lS PEACE
          FREEDOM lS SLAVERY
          lGNORANCE lS STRENGTH
      • So how do the US government or NSA have any effect on your personal liberties? Will they be stopping you from voting, or what?

    • by poity (465672)

      Seems like it was released in 2002, picked up by a crypto blog today, and now we're claiming it was just released by the NSA.

    • slashdotted. either that, or the flash drive with the files is on a plane to the jungle

    • This is standard political tactic, to release some alternate news story to divert everyones attention away from the real story - *the real story is still NSA spying* on whom every they please. And arresting (and probably not charging with any actual crimes) anybody who speaks out about it.
    • by Luckyo (1726890)

      Pay attention to the man. Ignore the contents of his message.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 24, 2013 @09:45AM (#44091777)

    Am I crazy for opening a PDF from the NSA?

    • Re:First pwned! (Score:5, Informative)

      by egcagrac0 (1410377) on Monday June 24, 2013 @09:46AM (#44091791)

      Not if you did it in a VM running a LiveCD...

      • Re:First pwned! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Alsee (515537) on Monday June 24, 2013 @12:30PM (#44093401) Homepage

        If you're worried about a NSA attack, a VM isn't going to save you. There have been several known exploits to break out of VM's. That will get them access to any harddrive if there's one connected at all. And if there isn't, there have been occasional exploits to flash a rootkit into BIOS. They could also activate Wifi or Bluetooth to infect any nearby computers or smartphones or any other smart devices, which could even bounce the infection back to the current computer after it's rebooted without the LiveCD and/or without the VM and/or with the harddrive reconnected.

        -

      • Not if you did it in a VM running a LiveCD...

        As if there have never been expliots allowing the guest to compromise its host. Even booting a live CD on metal you run risk of rouge software overwriting firmware of the system or any number of subsystems. Spinning platters are not much different than spinning centrifuges when you think about it.

        • How about VMS & Ghostscript?? There seems to be also a Z/OS This makes me wonder which would be the best way to view such document. Probably on a box with not connection and then send the box to the dumpster never using it again //HB
      • by Anonymous Coward

        AC sending an FYI for you to google...

        There have been successful remote exploits against firmware drivers for over a decade (think your NIC, my old dell wireless card, and all types of video drivers... anything with DMA access and a bit of a microprocessor)

        And for about two years there's been public proof of concepts actually infecting the firmware itself with a rootkit that preloads and installs itself into the O/S. I believe two were presented at blackhat recently.

        For about five year's, there's been virt

        • I commend you on your best practices, but think very carefully if you ever want a machine you open such a PDF on to be connected to any network. You really might be better off dumping the link to wget, burning a CD, and physically carrying it over to an "assumed compromised" host.

          Yes. When in doubt, airgap.

    • by Tokolosh (1256448)

      48MB for 344 pages?

    • by steelfood (895457)

      If they're going to bring the battering ram to your door, you might as well open it and let them in. It'll save you the door at least.

  • More Secret History (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    How about Bush's blackmail scheme where he used the NSA to try to obtain material to blackmail UN ambassadors into voting for invading Iraq. Most of the media treated that like it was secret...

  • PDFS (Score:5, Funny)

    by stewsters (1406737) on Monday June 24, 2013 @09:51AM (#44091851)
    Hey you guys who are talking about Snowden, download this PDF with some cool additional code! Don't worry about it. I promise we didn't buy exploits from Adobe or Microsoft!
    • Re:PDFS (Score:4, Funny)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday June 24, 2013 @09:54AM (#44091883) Journal

      Hey you guys who are talking about Snowden, download this PDF with some cool additional code! Don't worry about it. I promise we didn't buy exploits from Adobe or Microsoft!

      Why buy what you can get for free?

      • Re:PDFS (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gl4ss (559668) on Monday June 24, 2013 @10:37AM (#44092397) Homepage Journal

        Hey you guys who are talking about Snowden, download this PDF with some cool additional code! Don't worry about it. I promise we didn't buy exploits from Adobe or Microsoft!

        Why buy what you can get for free?

        If you don't use up the budget you don't get more next year. Especially if your working at an agency that can't be measured for efficiency in any way.

        • Possibly true; but if you have a wishlist that is longer than your budget(and who doesn't?) why buy items you could get for free and deny yourself the means to buy items that you need to buy?

          • You never have enough sharks with lasers - NEVER! Or enough nukes in orbit. You just can't have enough!

        • by khallow (566160)

          If you don't use up the budget you don't get more next year. Especially if your working at an agency that can't be measured for efficiency in any way.

          Well, any other way.

      • by steelfood (895457)

        Because it creates goodwill, and an excuse not to be subversive. People like excuses to maintain the status quo. Paying for a service rendered, even if pennies on the dollar, qualifies.

        It's an old mobster trick.

    • To be fair to them, they do warn you (or is it ask for your permission): "A Collect ion of Writings on Traffic Analysis . (pdf)"

      They are cryptanalysts after all - always writing and thinking in codes...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      I'm not too worried about exploits from Adobe or Microsoft affecting evince...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As we all know it was Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, using a steam powered analog computer to break (and make) secret communications. Case closed, this is clearly more lies by the NSA.

  • wrong topic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Monday June 24, 2013 @09:55AM (#44091907)

    Dear NSA, I think you're confused. The current topic of discussion is your ongoing violation of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. constitution.

    Compared to that, I truly doing give a fuck about your history of codebreaking.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by intermodal (534361)

      I do care about the history of codebreaking, but it doesn't mean i'm going to trust the NSA to tell me the truth about it. Which is why I'm focusing more on their fourth amendment violations instead. And, of course, the potential repercussions the same violations are liable to have on our rights to free association, since apparently we can now be surveiled on the grounds of where a friend of a friend of a friend ordered pizza from that may have had a foreign national working there.

    • And that's why this is the kind of place that can plant the seeds of revolution. This post alone is guaranteed to put me into an NSA database of known subversives. So be it. Now the question is, what can we crowd-source? How about starting with some local elections, and working our way up?

    • Speculation:
      The secret pre-history of the NSA may apply to the current Snowden issues. Reading Bamford (Puzzle Palace et al) it's obvious that the USA has been able to "coax" carriers and software developers into providing back-doors into their trunk lines and software. I've always wondered if it's because the NSA has prior art in much of computing discoveries of the pas 75 years, and uses it to gain access to whereever it wants to go? I mean, it does go whereever it wants to, and this may be why.
      I'm just

    • Dear NSA, I think you're confused. The current topic of discussion is your ongoing violation of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. constitution.

      I think the confusion here is entirely yours. There was another topic adjacent to this one where the subject you want to discuss would not have been out of place. Why aren't you posting there?

      Wikileaks Aiding Snowden - Chinese Social Media Divided - Relations Strained [slashdot.org]

      There is no "violation of the 4th Amendment" if the activities of the NSA are consistent with the Article II powers of the Constitution, and otherwise consistent with the law. So far they appear to be. I see many bold claims about violatio

  • by Seumas (6865) on Monday June 24, 2013 @10:03AM (#44091981)

    Squirrel!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There's a relatively old book about the NSA and SIGINT written by a journalist who studied publicly available materials using Tom Clancy's MO, that you can buy at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com. I remember reading it and thinking it was more like "what it's like to work at the NSA" than an expose, though. Still, IIRC the author and publisher had to square off with the NSA to get it in print.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Secret service intervention or just slashdotted?

  • What do you mean Pre-History?

    According to Wikipedia: Prehistory means "before we had written records,"

    So while the written records of these code breaking computers may just recently have been declassified, its not like they didn't exist, and of course there were 'computers' before that (Hollerith punched cards, and of course Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace)

    • Pre-History means "before recorded history". The term gets the point accross in this instance without being confusing. Although there is of course recorded history of computing before 1930. IBM was founded in 1911 after all as "Computing Tabulating Recording Company". So it is basically wrong.
      • Pre-History means "before recorded history". [snip] So it is basically wrong.

        I take your point. However, I would note the qualifier: "secret pre-history."

        From the time of the "father of history" Herodotus himself, it's pretty clear that history is about people being able to tell a story about past events.

        If facts about some devices were kept secret and thus were not available for historians to write about, there's a strong argument that such information is "pre-historical," in the sense that stuff may have been going on before the known written ("historical") record. Of course

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          I would note the qualifier: "secret pre-history."

          It's a formerly secret history, not a secret pre-history. The former is what you get when you hide the records. The latter is what you get when there are no records, and nobody talks about it (or everyone is silenced, or dies of natural causes, etc.)

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by JustOK (667959)

          Who did Herodotus have to fuck to be the father of history?

  • It is a good read... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mlts (1038732) * on Monday June 24, 2013 @10:21AM (#44092203)

    For something in the time periods mentioned, it is a good read, especially with the issues at the time.

    I would say that crypto advances and computers go hand in hand, from the mechanical rotor devices to more advanced algorithms like DES, then to ones that have a larger bitsize and block size (AES.)

    What will be the next big crypto advance is a next generation public key algorithm. RSA has been good, but it, DSA, and ECC can fall if a quantum computer of a decent size can be built. What is needed is a next generation public key algorithm, but those are a lot harder to come by than symmetric algos. What would be nice is an algorithm with a small key size like ECC (which since in theory a 256 bit ECC key is as secure as a 128 bit AES key), compared to 16384 bit keys for RSA.

    Of course, the applied crypto part is important as well.

    • by slew (2918)

      I would say that crypto advances and computers go hand in hand...

      I would actually say instead that crypto advances go in fits and spirts of understanding instead of tracking the advances of computer technology.

      Today, we are apparently not much beyond iterated substitution/permutation block ciphers that have some hardening against linear and differential analysis (things known about by the NSA and applied to the DES algorithm back in the '70s). Nearly all ciphers (and ciphers used in hash algorithms) have been developed along these lines of thinking. When this switches

      • It's not, actually. There are already asymmetric crypto algorithms which are believed to be quantum-resistant. They are typically based on the hardness of vector problems in n-dimensional integer lattices, or problems that have been proven reducible to such problems such as learning with errors [nyu.edu].

        • by slew (2918)

          It's not, actually. There are already asymmetric crypto algorithms which are believed to be quantum-resistant. They are typically based on the hardness of vector problems in n-dimensional integer lattices, or problems that have been proven reducible to such problems such as learning with errors [nyu.edu].

          Interesting read, but it doesn't address the questions at hand:
          Are cryptography advances and computer advances hand-in-hand? I believe the answer to that question is still no.
          Are big crypto advances in a next generation public key algorithm limited by our knowledge? I believe the answer to that question is still yes.

          For example, the McEliece-like crypto system (which seems suspiciously analogus to your LWE paper) did not appear to have any major advances for many years (probably because sending around huge

          • That's a fair and very insightful point. And I see now by re-reading your original post it was actually the point you were making all along, I just didn't see it.

    • by gomiam (587421)
      AFAIK, quantum computing algorithms are only able to square root the complexity. IOW, since the best factorisation algorithms are exponential, you only need to double the key length to stay safe agains quantum computers.

      I repeat: as far as I know. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    From the traffic analysis document page 3: Thanks are due .... for her encouragement and support in the making
    of this collection. Without the access to her files she so generously offered, it could not
    have been produced.

    LOL. All sorts of scenarios crossed my mind reading this.

  • Government Attic is offline. Any chance of a mirror?

  • The only link on the NSA's site that mentions it was this one:

    http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/crypto_almanac_50th/NSA_Before_Super_Computers.pdf [nsa.gov]

    But it's not the actual pdf... And no trace of the pdf on torrent sites. Can anyone seed it and post a link?

  • by mu51c10rd (187182) on Monday June 24, 2013 @11:09AM (#44092693)

    No Safeguards Assured.

  • Well, that didn't take long.
    Name: www.governmentattic.org
    Address: 127.0.0.1
  • by vbraga (228124) on Monday June 24, 2013 @12:27PM (#44093361) Journal

    I just get "This site has been suspended" from the hosting provider. Anyone has alternative links to the pdfs?

  • So what if the NSA records everything? Intelligence is only as useful as political leaders want to make it. If political leaders want "actionable intelligence" then the reader should already know that if those political leaders are either crooked or of a totalitarian mindset - or both - and they want to "get" you, they will - even if they have to gin up that "actionable intelligence".

    If reading of Stalin's and Mao's purges didn't teach you that, then the still-unsatisfied quest for WMDs and al Qaida trai

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