The GRANIT / 160 Cipher – A GDR Stasi Hand Cipher for Spies

The GRANIT / 160 cipher is a hand cipher which was used for communication between the GDR’s “Ministerium für Staatssicherheit” (Engl. Ministry for State Security) or MfS or Stasi and their agents in West Germany. The Stasi’s “Geheime Dienstvorschrift” (Engl. secret service regulation) GVS 1064/59 and GVS 1065/59 describe its usage. Copies of the original (German) service regulations can be found on Jörg Drobicks’s homepage.

The logo of the “Ministerium für Staatssicherheit”(Engl. Ministry for State Security) or MfS aka Stasi – Source Wikipedia

The GRANIT cipher is a variant of the “Doppelwürfel” (= double columnar transposition cipher). The Stasi communicated with their agents in West Germany via numbers stations: The agent had to turn on a radio and wait for his call sign. Then, the agent notes down the spoken numbers and after that he decrypts the received message using the GRANIT cipher.

The West German “Zentralstelle für das Chiffrierwesen” (Engl. Central Office
for Ciphering) was able to capture and decipher messages, because they could guess some of the used keys.

The Günter Guillaume Case – An East German Spy Near Willy Brandt

Günter Guillaume and his wife Christel Guillaime were East German spies deployed in West Germany. Günter Guillaume became officer in the economic, financial and social policy department of German Chancellor Willy Brandt. The Guillaume couple used the GRANIT cipher for communication with the Stasi. But the West German “Zentralstelle für das Chiffrierwesen” was able to decipher some of their messages.

Willy Brandt and Günter Guillaume (right) in Düsseldorf. Image ~ 1973 – Source Wikipedia

Matching birthday date wishes and well wishes for the birth of a son were found in a deciphered message. The Guillaumes were finally caught and arrested in 1974. Ironically, mentioned birthday dates of the Guillaumes were their “agent fake birth dates”…

Despite having good evidence police raided his home but Guillaume instantly confessed being a Stasi spy when approached by police. More about the story can be read (in German) on Klaus Schmeh’s blog.

How the GRANIT / 160 Cipher Works

The GRANIT / 160 cipher is a hand cipher and consists of five steps:

  1. Create a straddling checkerboard based on a keyword
  2. Encrypt the plaintext using the straddling checkerboard
  3. Create two rectangles for a double columnar transposition based on two key phrases
  4. Encrypt the numbers (result of step 2) using the first rectangle
  5. Encrypt the numbers (result of step 4) using the second rectangle

Clearly, the Stasi defined how to create the keys, how to create message indicators so that the receiver of a message is able to decrypt, etc. The details of these procedures and the details of the actual cipher can be seen in the video below :-).

A YouTube Video about the Details of the Cipher

If you want to know, how the details of the GRANIT cipher work, please watch my YouTube video on “Cryptography for everybody” about the GRANIT cipher:

The GRANIT / 160 Cipher Explained – a GDR Spy Cipher

The Bazeries Cipher Explained – A Classical Cipher Based on Substitution and Transposition

The Bazeries cipher was invented by and named after Étienne Bazeries, a French cryptographer. Bazeries was active between 1890 and the First World War.

Étienne Bazeries (Source: Wikipedia)
(21st August 1846 – 7th November 1931)

Bazeries is probably most famously known for the “Bazeries Cylinder”, a cipher device similiar to the Jefferson Disk or the M-94 cipher. Bazeries was a good code breaker: He solved messages encrypted with the official French military transposition system (lead to improvements of the ciphers). He further exposed weaknesses in French cipher systems. He assisted in solving German military ciphers during World War I, after he retired from the army. And in the 1890s he broke the famous nomenclator system called the “Great Cipher”, created by the Rossignols in the 17th century.

How Does the Cipher Work?

The cipher is a combination of substitution and transposition. For encryption, Bazeries only used a single number key, e.g. 123. In the following, we encrypt an example plaintext (“HELLOWORLD”).

We create two Polybius squares. In the first square, we put the Latin alphabet (I=J; filled from left to right and top to bottom row-wise). In the other square, we write a text representation of the number key, e.g. ONEHUNDREDTWENTYTHREE, followed by the remaining unused letters of the Latin alphabet. We fill the second square from top to bottom and left to right column-wise:

Two Polybius squares for a Bazeries cipher

To encrypt a plaintext, we first substitute it using the two created Polybius squares. We look for the plaintext letter in the left square and use the corresponding letter of the right square for the ciphertext (For eample A->O, B->D, etc.). When we encrypt HELLOWORLD, we obtain BQEELYLWEI.

Then, we transpose the intermediate ciphertext using the digits of the number key. We split the text into blocks of sizes defined by the digits of the number key. Then, we reverse each of these blocks to create the final ciphertext:

Bazeries cipher transposition

So our final ciphertext here is BEQYLELWEI. Of course, the decryption is the inverse process of the above shown steps :-).

Keyspace Size and Unicity Distance

Here, we compute the keyspace size as well as the unicity distance ( In the original version, as written above, Bazeries created the second Polybius square using the same key as he used for transposition. So for e.g. a maximum number key length of four digits, we compute:

  • For a 4-digit key, we have 10^4=10,000 different keys
  • For a 3-digit key, we have 10^3=1,000 different keys
  • For a 2-digit key, we have 10^2=100 different keys
  • For a 1-digit key, we have 10^1=10 different keys

Then, we have to add all these number. Thus, we have a toal keyspace size of 11,110

If we consider that the encrypter uses an independent (other) key for the Polybius square creation, we would have to compute 26! ≈ 2^88.4 for the number of possible different Polybius squares. In this case, we have to compute for the “complex” Bazeries cipher 11,110 ∙ 2^88.4 which is about 2^101.8.

To compute the unicity distance (of the complex case), we have to divide the entropy of the keyspace with the redundancy of the language:

Unicity distance of the more complex case of the Bazeries cipher

So we would need a ciphertext with a minimum length of 32 letters to obtain only one valid (and the correct) solution via cryptanalysis.

A YouTube Video about the Bazeries Cipher

I also created a YouTube vide about the Bazeries cipher:

The Bazeries Cipher Explained

Cryptography for everybody: I updated the Transposition Analyzer in CrypTool 2 to Make it More Convenient

Today, I updated the “transposition analyzer” component of CrypTool 2 (CT2) to make its usage more convenient. The analyzer allows the cryptanalysis of ciphertexts that are encrypted using the columnar transposition cipher. It was written some time ago in the early days of CT2 by some of my commolitons when I was doing my masters.

The CrypTool 2 transposition analyzer component now supports keylength ranges

It always bugged me that you needed to restart the analyzer when you wanted to analyze different key lengths. For example, if you assumed that a ciphertext had been encrypted using a columnar transposition cipher, but you were unsure which key length had been used (e.g. between 5 and 15), you had to restart it for any of the assumed key lengths.

Now, its a matter of setting minimum and maximum key lengths, and the analyzer will test all lengths of the defined range 🙂

Btw, the transposition analyzer supports different cryptanalysis methods/heuristics: brute-force for smaller key lengths, genetic algorithm and hillclimbing for longer key lengths. Also, if you have a crib (a part of known plaintext), the crib analysis can be used.

But besides simply just updating the component, I fixed a few bugs and generally improved the C# code a bit 🙂

If you want to see how to use the transposition analyzer of CT2, I created a video about it in the past:

Break a Columnar Transposition Cipher

Probably, I will also create a new video about columnar transposition ciphers and the updated transposition analyzer in the near future.

We published some years ago a paper about cryptanalysis of the columnar transposition cipher in Cryptologia [1].

Finally, if you want to simply encrypt or decrypt using the columnar transposition cipher, you may have a look at the nice implementation in CrypToolOnline:

[1] Lasry, George, Nils Kopal, and Arno Wacker. “Cryptanalysis of columnar transposition cipher with long keys.” Cryptologia 40.4 (2016): 374-398.