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World War II Colossus Computer Resurrected To Crack Codes Once Again

colossus.jpgThe fate of the world may not hang in the balance this time, but a team of engineers have resurrected Bletchley Park’s famous Colossus computer, the World War II code breaking machine widely recognized as one of the first programmable digital computers. It took fourteen years to reconstruct a Colossus since the machines were meticulously broken apart and destroyed after the war.

A new contest, The Cipher Challenge, will pit the rebuilt Colossus’ code breaking skills against modern machines running Colossus emulators. The contest is part of fund-raising drive for the British National Museum of Computing.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in this BBC article is that Tony Sale, leader of the Colossus rebuilding project, says that “a virtual Colossus written to run on a Pentium 2 laptop takes about the same time to break a cipher as Colossus does.”

Now that’s progress.

Actually there’s pretty good reason for the similar speeds; Colossus was built to do one thing and one thing only, break codes. A modern PC on the other hand, isn’t optimized for any one task, so while it’s more versatile (we hear WoW on Colossus is plagued by bad refresh rates) it isn’t necessarily faster.

Sale and team will find out how their Colossus replica did tomorrow when they get to see the actual unencrypted messages.

If you’d like more background on Colossus and what it was used for during the war (without it WWII would likely have lasted much much longer), check out the related Wikipedia article.

[Update: Alas, Colossus lost. See the BBC for more details]

[Image from Wikipedia]