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NSA Releases Secret Pre-History of Computers

samzenpus posted about 9 months ago | from the please-forget-about-that-other-stuff dept.

Privacy 167

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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167 comments

Pay no attention (5, Funny)

Tokolosh (1256448) | about 9 months ago | (#44091759)

to the man in the Russian airport.

Re:Pay no attention (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#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.

Re:Pay no attention (1)

Megane (129182) | about 9 months ago | (#44092013)

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?

Re:Pay no attention (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092925)

they are now reporting that there is no record of a US citizen with that name

At the risk of feeding a troll, being wooshed, or having the black helicopters come find me, I have some middle school yearbooks which say otherwise.

If the media really is reporting that Edward Snowden is a made up person, please, provide a citation.

Re:Pay no attention (2)

tgd (2822) | about 9 months ago | (#44093337)

they are now reporting that there is no record of a US citizen with that name

At the risk of feeding a troll, being wooshed, or having the black helicopters come find me, I have some middle school yearbooks which say otherwise.

*woosh*

If the media really is reporting that Edward Snowden is a made up person, please, provide a citation.

Re:Pay no attention (2)

tgd (2822) | about 9 months ago | (#44093353)

they are now reporting that there is no record of a US citizen with that name

At the risk of feeding a troll, being wooshed, or having the black helicopters come find me, I have some middle school yearbooks which say otherwise.

*woosh*

If the media really is reporting that Edward Snowden is a made up person, please, provide a citation.

I blame some sort of PRISM intercept for that *woosh* ending up in the wrong place.

Re:Pay no attention (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 9 months ago | (#44093983)

OMG, whatachump! Posting anonymously won't save you, dude! You're history now, too! Or - more accurately, you're NOT history anymore. You'll be disappeared soon. And, sadly for you, no one will even know who the hell you were. Sad, sad, sad. Your own parents will soon forget you, as the NSA agents brainwash them.

If you're going to save yourself, you had better head to Cuba now!

Re:Pay no attention (4, Insightful)

FriendlyLurker (50431) | about 9 months ago | (#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...

Re:Pay no attention (4, Insightful)

TheCarp (96830) | about 9 months ago | (#44092329)

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.

Re:Pay no attention (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092637)

NSA are the terrorist.

Re:Pay no attention (3, Insightful)

EuclideanSilence (1968630) | about 9 months ago | (#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.

Re:Pay no attention (5, Insightful)

ibwolf (126465) | about 9 months ago | (#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.

Re:Pay no attention (3)

ahabswhale (1189519) | about 9 months ago | (#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)

Re:Pay no attention (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 9 months ago | (#44094073)

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 landed.

NSAUSA, on the other hand, watches everybody.

Re:Pay no attention (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44094505)

Oh the irony! (Yes, actual irony.)

Hmm (1)

poity (465672) | about 9 months ago | (#44092893)

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.

Re:Hmm (4, Informative)

chill (34294) | about 9 months ago | (#44093823)

Ummm...nope.

Requested date: 04-August-2012
Released date: 29-May-2013
Posted date: 24-June-2013

Requested date: 02-August-2012
Released date: 11-June-2013
Posted date: 24-June-2013

still using pre-computers over there (1)

swschrad (312009) | about 9 months ago | (#44093131)

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

First pwned! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44091777)

Am I crazy for opening a PDF from the NSA?

Re:First pwned! (4, Informative)

egcagrac0 (1410377) | about 9 months ago | (#44091791)

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

Re:First pwned! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092703)

All your base are belong to us.

ahahahahahahahahaa.... NSA bot..

Re:First pwned! (4, Interesting)

Alsee (515537) | about 9 months ago | (#44093401)

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.

-

Re:First pwned! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44093981)

Don't we all have old hardware? install some os on bare metal old pc, without flashable bios, just basic graphics card, cd-rom drive (for os and moving files to pc), harddrive (for os, though you could go without. booting from a pure cd-based os from a secondary cd-rom drive). now safely read the file. (wipe os if you want, if really paranoid trash hardware). Oh yeah, and use something basic to get the file, dont click "Download and open" mmkay.

Re:First pwned! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44093581)

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

VM running a Distro.......nope....still not safe....LOL !

Re:First pwned! (1)

WaffleMonster (969671) | about 9 months ago | (#44094381)

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.

Re:First pwned! (1)

Tokolosh (1256448) | about 9 months ago | (#44091847)

48MB for 344 pages?

Re:First pwned! (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 9 months ago | (#44091993)

Not particularly implausible if it has pictures(especially highish-quality and/or appallingly malcompressed ones). The actual exploit code is probably a pretty small percentage of the total.

Re:First pwned! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092739)

backdoors are heavy.

Re:First pwned! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44091937)

Only if you have a phobia against whitewashing.

Re:First pwned! (1)

steelfood (895457) | about 9 months ago | (#44093943)

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 (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44091795)

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...

Re:More Secret History (0)

mi (197448) | about 9 months ago | (#44093035)

UN ambassadors are not US-citizens. Since the Roman Republic, the Executive has full legal power over foreigners.

Which means mathematically speaking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44091823)

We will know all the truth of Facebook and Google deals around 2070 declassified

Re:Which means mathematically speaking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44091889)

In the Future. "You know the guy we caught at the Russian airport in 2013? He was water-boarded until we no longer found it funny...but yeah he was right about all"

Wasn't this already known? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44091835)

I thought we already knew about this.

PDFS (5, Funny)

stewsters (1406737) | about 9 months ago | (#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 (3, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 9 months ago | (#44091883)

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 (4, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | about 9 months ago | (#44092397)

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.

Re:PDFS (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 9 months ago | (#44092685)

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?

Re:PDFS (1)

steelfood (895457) | about 9 months ago | (#44093991)

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.

Re:PDFS (1)

FriendlyLurker (50431) | about 9 months ago | (#44092223)

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...

Of course it wasn't magic (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44091879)

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 (5, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 9 months ago | (#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:wrong topic (3, Insightful)

intermodal (534361) | about 9 months ago | (#44091987)

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.

Re:wrong topic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092735)

The first time the NSA tried their hand at cryptography, they got eleven hole-in-ones.

Re:wrong topic (1)

Princeofcups (150855) | about 9 months ago | (#44093405)

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?

Indeed. Don't bother with RTFA. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44094559)

Respect the glorious slashdot tradition for once, with pride. :-)

http://preview.tinyurl.com/p4o5n78

Re:wrong topic - but speculative (1)

tchdab1 (164848) | about 9 months ago | (#44094629)

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 sayin'.

The Puzzle Palace (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092129)

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.

Re:The Puzzle Palace (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44093801)

Are you thinking of James Bamford?

'This site has been suspended' (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092177)

Secret service intervention or just slashdotted?

Re:'This site has been suspended' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092443)

so at least it's not a problem on my side... ...one should think they can handle that traffic ;)

Re:'This site has been suspended' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092539)

Talked to the operators, slashdotted. POW WEB is not up for the challenge of serving this crowd.

Pre History? (0)

rossdee (243626) | about 9 months ago | (#44092187)

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)

Re:Pre History? (2)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | about 9 months ago | (#44092279)

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.

Re:Pre History? (1)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 9 months ago | (#44092649)

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, once it is released and incorporated into known histories, it becomes "historical" and will no longer be "pre-history."

As I read this headline, it isn't "NSA Releases Secret Pre-History of [ALL] Computers." (How far do we go back? Charles Babbage? What counts as a "computer"?)

Rather, the "secret" in the headline implies that the NSA is probably talking about itself. Hence: "NSA Releases Secret Pre-History of [the NSA's and Preceding Intelligence Agencies'] Computers."

Re:Pre History? (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 9 months ago | (#44092741)

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:Pre History? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092387)

I think they likely mean pre-WW2 but chose their words poorly. Seems like a lot of tech has a pre-WW2 "oh, that's so cute" history and a post-WW2 "oh, this is serious" history.

Re:Pre History? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44093059)

I think the point here is that it PREcede the HISTORY of computers, as we're talking of machines that were not quite computers.
Just like prehistory precede the history (what is written) of man

Re:Pre History? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44094041)

It's literary license, aka the foundation of most of the news media's headlines. If you can't understand that concept, you should really try reading more often.

It is a good read... (3, Interesting)

mlts (1038732) | about 9 months ago | (#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.

acknowledgements.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092349)

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.

is it just me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092423)

or are the links dead? both!

The site got suspended... (1)

Kergan (780543) | about 9 months ago | (#44092597)

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?

Re:The site got suspended... (1)

sbrown7792 (2027476) | about 9 months ago | (#44093103)

Google webcache has this [googleusercontent.com]

Re:The site got suspended... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44093171)

Shame the OCR makes it pretty much inintelligible... "TOP SECRET" becomes "TOP !l!(Rl!!T", "I OP 51!Cltl!T" and "l0P SECRET" amongst others...

FAIL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092743)

Site has been suspended... lol

blackholed (1)

ei4anb (625481) | about 9 months ago | (#44092911)

Well, that didn't take long.
Name: www.governmentattic.org
Address: 127.0.0.1

Re:blackholed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44094161)

Wow :\ So who controls that secret list?

pl)us 3, Troll) (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092981)

with the work, 0r NetBSD posts odn

Brilliant move (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44092995)

An agency that can't even host a single file certainly can't do all those horrible internet things my grandson tries to explain to me. For a second I was almost worried no go and kill that fucking traitor before he get's on my lawn!

Well played, NSA.

Impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44093007)

The prevailing geek narrative is that only space provides the impetus to develop technology. NASA invented computers. Everyone else in other spheres of human knowledge were idiots.

"This site has been suspended" (2)

vbraga (228124) | about 9 months ago | (#44093361)

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

Re:"This site has been suspended" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44093945)

I second this... I'm very interested now that the link has disappeared.

a collection of writings on traffic analysis... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44094447)

...a collection of writings on traffic analysis............

Filter error: Please use fewer 'junk' characters.

Prove yourself: gazette

For once, don't bother RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44094531)

Instead visit http://preview.tinyurl.com/p4o5n78

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