A cryptography museum that’s really something.

Greetings folks!

The other day I visited a most curiously interesting place – and it didn’t take a plane to get me there! Practically on my doorstep – Moscow’s Cryptography Museum, here. And I was reeaally impressed, to say the least: well thought-out, well laid-out, modern/futuristic-looking, and not just for math boffins – accessible for most everyone. In short – an amazing museum. Highly recommended!…

All things cryptography are exhibited at the museum: from ancient coding kit, via the later pre-digital systems, and through to today’s latest cryptographic systems…

Some exhibits are the genuine item, some are replicas, while others are – clearly – outsized scale models:

The building in which the museum is situated is also interesting – and with a checkered history. Built in 1884, it started out as a school; after the Revolution it became an orphanage; and after WWII it became a sharashka – a secret R&D lab run as part of the Gulag labor-camp system. And not just any old sharashka, but the one depicted in Solzhenitsyn’s novel In the First Circle!

But today it’s the Cryptography Museum; here’s the nameplate – seemingly also in code! ->

In we go. Straight off the bat we could tell this is a bit of a rule-breaking museum: the route through the exhibits doesn’t go in chronological order… rather – it does, but in reverse order – starting with the very latest cryptography (quantum, blockchain, modern crypto-algorithms), and ending with the first ever ideas about coding.

Retro-avantgarde designs:

Peeping through the keyholes:

Cryptographic keys:

Blockchain (+ a 1980s calculator, which tries – and fails – to calculate the blockchain!) ->


For some unknown reason – a section on hackers. But they only have an indirect relation to cryptography…

I didn’t see anything on asymmetric encryption. Must have missed it somehow…

Woah: Setun. From 1959! And it was a ternary computer! ->

Afraid can’t recall what this was:

A corner dedicated to Claude Shannon, the “father of information theory” ->

I got somewhat nostalgic for my days as a student learning about all this digital-informational world stuff. But I digress…

Next – WWII scrambling:

Nothing on Japanese cryptography from that era; strange…

The Moscow–Washington hotline; aka as the “red telephone”! ->

Book ciphers, steganography

That little box there is an infamous Enigma machine used by the Nazis in WWII. The Poles, then later the Brits, were able to decrypt and read its enciphered messages just as if they were reading the daily newspaper. The result: much trouble for the Germans – especially its navy.

Plenty on Alan Turing, naturally:

Crypto AG cryptography kit. Interesting long-running tale there: murky international cloak-and-dagger stuff with a crypto slant – you couldn’t make it up!…

Analogue encoders:

The Soviet Fialka. Must say, I’d never heard of it. Ah – here’s why: Information regarding the machine was quite scarce until c. 2005 because the device had been kept secret”! ->

An oversized Fialka:

And on and on, rather – back and back, through cryptographic history…

Back to the era of… wood! ->

Woah – back and back to… Ancient Rome. Oh my gladiator!…

Hard to believe! ->

How to hide a message, without encryption! Wait – if they considered this millennia ago… what went wrong? :)

Atbash – the great-great-great-grandfather of modern cryptography. As used in… the Bible! ->

Frequency analysis

And something I never knew existed! ->

Toward the end of the excursion you can get hands-on for a spot of encryption yourself – instructions included, including for little ones ->

And that’s all for today folks – crypto museum: done. Hope you liked it – and I hope one day you can make it there for a visit yourselves!…

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