HistoCrypt 2022

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HistoCrypt 2022
June 20-22, 2022, Amsterdam, Netherlands


Maarten Oberman: (Re)-writing the Cryptographic history of the Netherlands 1945-1965

Shortly after WWII, PTT was invited by the Dutch Government to design and build a very secure cryptosystem, the predecessor of the well-known Ecolex. The precise history and subsequent developments have been clouded, not least because all participants had to sign personally for life-long secrecy. It is known that the Dutch Government used One-Time Pad systems for its most sensitive messages. Who was involved in the development and for what reason has never been revealed until now, due to the disclosure of the inventor's personal archive. Now the successes and complications which came along with the creation process will be revealed. In addition, this lecture will reveal the role of the clients of the invented system and the hurdles the developers had to take within the Government.
Some details
Two governmental departments supported and criticized the crypto-equipment developments:
  1. The Ministry of Foreign affairs and the Royal Dutch Navy were the main clients: All major Dutch embassies around the world and all navy ships were securely connected with Roelof Oberman's OTP systems.
  2. The Code Coordination Office, or in other words the Crypto Authority: The CCO was founded in June 1945. They were the approval organization for governmental cryptosystems. They were secretly connected to the Navy crypto-analysis department in Amsterdam.
The timeline of this lecture is limited to the first 15 years after WW-II, which includes the motives behind the transfer of crypto systems from PTT to Philips in 1957.
Afterwards, Maarten Oberman will officially present his book and hand it over to Bas Dunnebier, Head Unit Resilience, the Netherlands National Communications Security Agency.
Speaker's background
Maarten Oberman is the direct generation after the inventor Roelof Oberman, who created the first post-WWII cryptosystems at PTT (Posterijen, Telegrafie an Telefonie), the former Dutch Post and Telecom organization. Coincidentally, about 35 years later the speaker worked at the very same, "his" PTT department, focusing on crypto-based network security for communication systems.

Gerhard F. Strasser: Historical View of Signs and Sign Languages as a Potential for Secret Communication in Two Worlds: In Ottoman Courts and Catholic Religious Orders

The 1679 manuscript details the use of "Selam" greetings at the Seraglio, in particular in the harem: This non-verbal communication involved the exchange of (coded) everyday items (a comb, a blade of grass, an onion) that carried a pre-determined meaning. The manuscript was used in the publication of a 1688 novelette, Histoire Galante, where such exchanges enabled two young lovers to rekindle a relationship in the harem where access was forbidden to men. In the course of this romance the two resort to the sign language that was in general use at the court, in particular among the Sultan's deaf-mute servants. This episode in the novelette leads to a discussion of the development and significance of the sign language at the Ottoman courts, which was also used for cryptological purposes.
A contrasting overview shows the development of signs and sign languages in French and central European monasteries from the 11th/12th centuries onwards. Hundreds of years later, around 1600, these early sign languages led to the creation of signed communication with deaf-mute members of the Spanish nobility; these systems ultimately formed the core of modern instruction for the deaf-mute: What was originally a closed system of communication — ideally suited for cryptological purposes — had become a method of exchange that opened up the world to men and women born without hearing.
Some details
This presentation purports to highlight entirely different systems of communication from totally distinct cultures: The use of coded "Selam" messages at Ottoman courts that flabbergasted western diplomats when they first encountered this means of secret interchange was just as "exotic" as the interaction of the Sultan's "Mutes" by means of some kind of sign language: Both methods of communication remained totally inaccessible to the non-initiated and assured perfect secrecy.
The medieval development of sign languages in western European monasteries served an entirely different purpose: This method of communication was to assure total silence required in particular religious orders. The outgrowth of this system, however, the newly developed sign languages in 17th-century Spain, opened up what until then had been a closed method of communication and enabled an ever-increasing number of young persons born without hearing to fully participate in the world around them.
Speaker's background
Gerhard F. Strasser retired from Penn State University as professor of German and Comparative Literature. His numerous publications, especially in the Early Modern Period, have taken him from early universal languages to cryptology. Among his current projects is the edition of a 1679 French-Turkish manuscript that documents the use of signs and sign languages at the Sultan's court.

Paul Reuvers & Marc Simons: Operation RUBICON

Boris Hagelin was a Swedish inventor of cipher machines. During WWII he became the world's first crypto-millionaire by selling his design to the US Army. After the war he moved his company to neutral Switserland to evade high taxes and tight export restrictions. Once in Switzerland, the company - Crypto AG - became the key supplier of cryptographic equipment to more than 150 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and South-America, where it was used for military and diplomatic traffic.
In the past, it has often been rumoured that Crypto AG (Hagelin) had good contacts with the American intelligence services, and provided them with details about its customers, whilst providing these customers with rigged (weakened) equipment. And although in 2015 the US National Security Agency (NSA) released hundreds of papers that confirmed the good relationship between Hagelin and the NSA, those papers were heavily redacted, and the smoking gun was never found.
All that changed in February 2020, when journalists from the German TV Station ZDF, Swiss TV station SRF and the American newspaper The Washington Post, assisted by the Dutch radio program Argos and Crypto Museum, revealed details about Operation RUBICON - a covert operation of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its German counterpart the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), in which they had secretly purchased Crypto AG in 1970. They used it to insert weakened algorithms - popularly known as backdoors - into Crypto AG's cipher machines and spy on the diplomatic traffic of around 130 countries. In 1994, the BND left the operation, but the CIA continued it until 2018.
Some details
Crypto Museum's Paul Reuvers and Marc Simons, who were part of the investigative team from September 2019 onwards, will discuss the juicy details of Operation RUBICON and the preceeding events that led to its inception. It will be shown how CIA and BND managed to insert backdoors into the equipment of a company with more than 200 employees of which only three were witting, and how they managed to hide the real ownership of the company. There were great successes, but also failures, cultural differences and tragic losses, which eventually caused the BND to leave the operation in 1994. In addition to this keynote, many of the cipher machines that played a key role in this covert operation will be on public display at HistoCrypt.
Speaker's background
Paul Reuvers is a self-employed electronics engineer in Eindhoven (Netherlands). After studying electronics at the Polytechnic University of 's-Hertogenbosch, he worked for several companies in the field radio, television and broadcasting, before founding his own company in 1986. He has since specialised in the development of embedded software for a variety of applications, including agricultural platforms and sensors.
Marc Simons is a self-employed electronics engineer in Eindhoven (Netherlands). After studying electronics at the Polytechnic University of Eindhoven, he worked for several companies in the field of surveillance and security, before founding his own company at the beginning of the century, in January 2000. He has since specialised in the development of analog electronics and embedded platforms and sensors for agricultural applications.
Crypto Museum: In 2003 Paul Reuvers and Marc Simons founded the virtual Crypto Museum, which has since received international recognition. Crypto Museum is a not-for-profit organisation with a physical collection of historical cipher machines and equipment for espionage, that is available on-line through its website. It is the goal to analyse, describe and restore as much of the equipment as possible, and share this information with the public for free.

Photo: Inge Hoogland

Last update 2022-06-01