This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. (Learn how and when to remove these template messages) This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Jefferson disk" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (July 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this template message) This article's tone or style may not reflect the encyclopedic tone used on Wikipedia. See Wikipedia's guide to writing better articles for suggestions. (September 2021) (Learn how and when to remove this template message) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Jefferson's disk cipher
Jefferson's disk cipher

The Jefferson disk, also called the Bazeries Cylinder or wheel cypher[1] as named by Thomas Jefferson, is a cipher system using a set of wheels or disks, each with the 26 letters of the alphabet arranged around their edge. The order of the letters is different for each disk and is usually scrambled in some random way. Each disk is also marked with a unique number and a hole in the center of the disks allows them to be stacked on an axle. The disks are removable and can be mounted on the axle in any order desired. The order of the disks is the cipher key, and both sender and receiver must arrange the disks in the same predefined order. Jefferson's device had 36 disks.[2]

Once the disks have been placed on the axle in the agreed order, the sender rotates each disk up and down until a desired message is spelled out in one row. Then, the sender can copy down any row of text on the disks other than the one that contains the plaintext message. The recipient has to arrange the disks in the agreed-upon order, rotate the disks so they spell out the encrypted message on one row, and then look around the rows until they see the plaintext message, i.e. the row that's not unreadable. There is an extremely small chance that there will be two readable messages, but that can be checked quickly by the person coding.

The Jefferson disk was invented by Thomas Jefferson in 1795, and the cipher was independently invented by Commandant Etienne Bazeries, and did not become well known until the conqueror of the Great Cipher, Rossignols, a century later. The system was used by the United States Army from 1923 until 1942 as the M-94. It aided the war efforts as it was a type of secret messaging that only military and government officials would know how to interpret. Jefferson's Disk is the first form of coding technology ever created and later down the line Rossignols perfected that technology as "it was reputed to be unbreakable."

Thomas Jefferson may not have invented the cipher technology that became known as the coding we see today but he implanted the existence of such an invention. Without the creation of the Jefferson disk the making of future ciphers wouldn't have happened until much later in our history or possibly would never have happened at all. Our technological knowledge would be far behind what it is now if coding didn't thrive. Coding has influenced more of our history than most even believe. We've won wars using it, we've communicated with it, we've created machines using it, we even use it in our phones and computers without even realizing it. Jefferson sparked the creation of a main part of the world of technology that we use in our everyday lives whether we know it or not. We would have a very different and underdeveloped world compared to today without it being invented. we owe Thomas Jefferson a great thanks for creating such an invention.

Operation

To encrypt a message, the encrypter rotates the disks to produce the plaintext message along one "row" of the stack of disks, and then selects another row as the ciphertext. To decrypt the message, the decrypter rotates the disks on his cylinder to produce the ciphertext along a row. Decryption is easier if both the encrypter and the decrypter know the offset of the row, but not necessary since the decrypter can look around the cylinder to find a row that makes sense.

For example, a simplified "toy" Bazeries cylinder using only ten disks might be organized as shown below, with each disk "unwrapped" into a line and each marked with a designating number:

1: < ZWAXJGDLUBVIQHKYPNTCRMOSFE <
2: < KPBELNACZDTRXMJQOYHGVSFUWI <
3: < BDMAIZVRNSJUWFHTEQGYXPLOCK <
4: < RPLNDVHGFCUKTEBSXQYIZMJWAO <
5: < IHFRLABEUOTSGJVDKCPMNZQWXY <
6: < AMKGHIWPNYCJBFZDRUSLOQXVET <
7: < GWTHSPYBXIZULVKMRAFDCEONJQ <
8: < NOZUTWDCVRJLXKISEFAPMYGHBQ <
9: < XPLTDSRFHENYVUBMCQWAOIKZGJ <
10: < UDNAJFBOWTGVRSCZQKELMXYIHP <

If the "key", the sequence of disks, for this Bazeries cylinder is

7,9,5,10,1,6,3,8,2,4

and the encrypter wants to send the message "retreat now" to the decrypter, the encrypter rearranges the disks as per the key and rotates each disk to obtain the plaintext, which is shown at the left, with spacing added for clarity:

7: < R AFDCE O NJQGWTHSPYBXIZULVKM <
9: < E NYVUB M CQWAOIKZGJXPLTDSRFH <
5: < T SGJVD K CPMNZQWXYIHFRLABEUO <
10: < R SCZQK E LMXYIHPUDNAJFBOWTGV <
1: < E ZWAXJ G DLUBVIQHKYPNTCRMOSF <
6: < A MKGHI W PNYCJBFZDRUSLOQXVET <
3: < T EQGYX P LOCKBDMAIZVRNSJUWFH <
8: < N OZUTW D CVRJLXKISEFAPMYGHBQ <
2: < O YHGVS F UWIKPBELNACZDTRXMJQ <
4: < W AORPL N DVHGFCUKTEBSXQYIZMJ <

the encrypter then selects the ciphertext from the sixth row of the cylinder up from the plaintext. This ciphertext is also highlighted above with spacing, and gives:

OMKEGWPDFN

When the decrypter gets the ciphertext, they rearrange the disks on their cylinder to the key arrangement, rotate the disks to give the ciphertext, and then read the plaintext six rows down from the ciphertext, or look over the cylinder for a row that makes sense.

Basis for military ciphers

The Bazeries cylinder was the basis for the US "M-94" cipher machine, which was introduced in 1922 and derived from work by Parker Hitt. In 1914, Hitt had experimented with the Bazeries device, building one prototype using slides on a wooden frame, with the cipher alphabets printed twice consecutively on the slides, and then another using disks of wood. He forwarded his experiments up the Signal Corps chain of command, and in 1917 Joseph Mauborgne refined the scheme, with the final result being the M-94.

The M-94 used 25 aluminium disks on a spindle. It was used by the Army, Coast Guard, and the Radio Intelligence Division of the Federal Communications Commission until early in World War II. The Army changed back to Hitt's original slide scheme with the "M-138-A" cipher machine, which was introduced in the 1930s and was used by the US Navy and US State Department through World War II. The M-138-A featured 100 strips, with 30 selected for use in any one cipher session. It was an improvement in security for the State Department, which during the interwar years had used insecure codes, even in one case a standard commercial telegraph code.

Cryptanalysis

The Bazeries cylinder was a relatively strong system at the time (compared to many other systems in use), and Etienne Bazeries, a French military cryptanalyst, is said to have regarded it as indecipherable. The "Pers Z S" code-breaking group of the German Foreign Office cracked the M-138-A in 1944. However, by that time the Americans had more sophisticated cipher systems in operation.

The French cryptographer Gaetan de Viaris (aka Marquis Gaetan Henri Leon Viarizio di Lesegno) who is famous for one of the first printing cipher devices (1874), solved the Bazeries cylinder in 1893.

One major weakness of the Bazeries cylinder is that the offset from the plaintext letter to the ciphertext letter for the cipher alphabet on each disk will be exactly the same. In the example shown above, this offset is six letters.

For example, if a cryptanalyst has captured the ten disk Bazeries cylinder described in the example above, this should not be enough to permit them to decipher messages with it, since they also have to know the key, or the arrangement of the disks on the cylinder. The number of possible permutations of the disks of the example Bazeries cylinder is:

Due to the large size of this number, trial and error testing of the arrangement of the disks difficult to perform by hand.

Sources

  1. ^ "Wheel Cipher". The Jefferson Monticello. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  2. ^ Kahn, p. 194