Stalin’s Encryption Code – A History of Soviet Era Cryptology

  • The origins of Russian cryptography date back to the early 1500s and the first leader who understood the importance of cryptography was Peter I.
  • Closer to the start of World War II, the Soviets realized machine technology was needed to speed up the process and make it more efficient.
  • The KGB's new method of encrypted communication required the system also be multilingual with emphasis on German, Polish and myriad of additional Eastern European languages.

The Russian Institute of Cryptology is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. This week a discovery of Stalin’s application of the cryptology became available. The code was applied starting in 1919 by Stalin in his telegrams. The information posted need a little interpreting but it appears the code Stalin was using came from a small sized book that could be easily carried and the page numbers resemble the letters.

The key page being used is speculated to be one that pertains to the Communist Party annual meeting and the recently approved Party agenda.

The origins of Russian cryptography date back to the early 1500s and the first leader who understood the importance of cryptography was Peter I. During the late 1600s he made it official and mandatory at the Russian Empire’s highest level. The cryptology at the time involved either substituting a symbol or combination of letters for each letter of the alphabet.

In 1921 Vladimir Lenin created the Soviet Cryptology Agency. The head of the agency was Gleb Bokiy, a Bolshevik and noteworthy as the creator of the torturous Gulag system. However, closer to the start of World War II, the Soviets realized machine technology was needed to speed up the process and make it more efficient. The Spectr was designed in the 1930s and it was considered a top of the line machine able to encrypt close to 300 symbols per minute.

The Soviets needed a more evolved method at the start of the Cold War since the German Enigma Wehrmacht had been hacked. The formula used for a 3 rotor Enigma was E = P (pi Rp-i) (pj Mp-j) (pk Lp-k)U (pk L-1 p-k) (pj M-1 p-j) (pi R-1 p-i) P-1. At present a virtual cryptomuseum in the Netherlands has a few models of Enigma. A new KGB museum also opened this year in New York City.

The KGB’s new method of encrypted communication required the system also be multilingual with emphasis on German, Polish and myriad of additional Eastern European languages. The system that was designed was called the M-125 “Fialka.”

Source: stanford.edu

It’s official use started in 1956 and the encryption system was being used by the members of Warsaw Pact during 1970s. Russia decalssified partial documentation relating to Fialka encryption in 2005. Nevertheless, it is not compete information and the Kremlin is seemingly not declassifying more.

The system was designed on the Enigma prototype and contained 10 rotors. It was similar to the Baudot Code (International Teleprinter Code) with the perforation pattern during typing. It was invented in the 1870s and used for teleprinter messages instead of Morse Code and allowed the encoding of 2^5=32 characters efficiently. The machine evolved multiple times before becoming obsolete after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin has since created new multiple agencies in this field and the Kremlin has been directly involved for the past 20 years in the evolution of cryptology.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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