Unlocking Secrets of History: Lakota West's Cyber Students Explore a WWII Enigma Machine
Lakota West’s Cyber Academy students recently had the opportunity to discover more about one of the oldest modern encryption techniques, the Enigma machine.
The Enigma machine, developed by German engineer Arthur Scherbius in 1918, was used by Nazi Germany during World War II to encode its top-secret messages. Even though the Germans made several improvements to the Enigma machine, Poland was able to crack the scrambled lettering in the German messages, keeping them alive during the war. However, Germany would eventually develop the more advanced machine that National Security Agency (NSA) Analyst Jason Armstrong presented to the students.
The 60-pound machine was carried on the backs of soldiers during the war. It consisted of a keyboard connected to three rotors that shifted with each press of a key. These rotors scrambled the output alphabet by using one of the oldest, and still highly prominent, ciphers, the Caesar cipher.
Ciphers are sequences that create codes, encrypting a message. Ones like the Caesar cipher are a crucial part of cybersecurity. While the material needing to be encrypted has changed from physical letters to digital ones and zeros, the same concepts still frequently apply. That’s why, when Lakota West Cyber Academy instructor Moriah Walker had the opportunity to bring Armstrong in, she thought it would be an incredible opportunity for her students.
“It is a great opportunity for them to see the physical machine and gain some real-world knowledge,” Walker said.
The Cybersecurity I class is currently learning about encryption in their curriculum, but even for Cyber II and III students, Walker thought it would be a great opportunity to show how impactful this knowledge is in the real world.
Andrew Okoye, a senior who is currently on track to acquire his ethical hacker certification among others, said he most enjoyed hearing directly from the NSA, where he is considering working after high school. “It’s cool with the NSA because you are kind of looking at the future,” Okoye remarked. “We get lots of visitors in here, but this one was really cool.” In addition to the Enigma, Armstrong also shared about career opportunities around cybersecurity with the NSA.
In regards to cybersecurity classes becoming more prominent in schools like Lakota West, Armstrong said, “I think it’s great.” Part of what he enjoys as an educational liaison for both the University of Cincinnati and the Pennsylvania State University is “reaching students early and often” as they explore the realm of cybersecurity.
If you want to experience the Enigma machine for yourself, unfortunately, most of them are found behind glass in museums, making this real-world learning experience even more unique for the students. However, with the help of a Pringles can, you can explore the inner workings of an Enigma machine at home.
- real world learning