Cryptographic Capabilities of the Barbie Typewriter

They're not much, but they do exist.

Posted on January 5, 2017 at 5:58 AM • 14 Comments

Comments

CassandraJanuary 5, 2017 6:55 AM

Interesting.

My first thought on reading your article was that it would be about a typewriter owned by Klaus Barbie, so I had a bit of a surprise.

Klaus Barbie worked variously for the CIC and the BND after being a notorious SS-officer and Gestapo member in WWII, as well as subsequently being a ranking military officer in Bolivia involved in arms trading, so it was not beyond reason that he might have had a cryptographic typewriter.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 5, 2017 10:41 AM

The earlier mechanical version,

http://typewriterdatabase.com/mobile/19xx-mehano-barbie.4143.typewriter

Whilst not offering a crypto capability would probably be more secure (think Russian recent changes ;) ... But for the fact the individual print heads are made of plastic and wore out very quickly.

As for the electronic version they were quite cheap, changing hands for as little as 16GBP a little over a decade ago (about 30USD back then).

And yes they are "collectors items" I'm guessing mainly by men. Because I looked into getting on to pull apart some years ago for a fun little project. And having tried to buy one, one person I spoke to was horrified that I would want to do such a thing with a "collectable in pristine condition"...

Martin WalshJanuary 5, 2017 10:48 AM

See https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/01/what-makes-things-cool/508772/ especially “experts tend to be overcritical of proposals in their own domain.” Intriguing. This may explain why anything different, at all, gets branded "snake oil" by argumentation having nothing whatsoever to do with real information security. I still remember the white paper from a research group in Canada that was openly skewered and ridiculed on this blog. They never made any claims as to the efficacy of their system. It was branded "snake oil" before they even knew what hit them.

The Barbie typewriter does have a weird twisted connection to the how and why "experts" have hamstrung information security in the West. So here we are, welcome to 2017.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 5, 2017 11:04 AM

@ CallMeLate...,

The photos on your link reminded me that some years ago pre dancing hamsters and cute kittens, there were other pictures doing the rounds, one of which was "Bondage Barbie".

A quick Google pulled up a long list the first link of which is,

http://devilishlycreative.deviantart.com/art/Extreme-Bondage-Barbie-Doll-314800144

The couple of lines of text underneath it,

    15 Jul 2012 ... Lolita Barbie, Extreme Bondage Barbie, Trailer Trash Barbie, Pin-Up Barbie, Barbie PornStars, Barbie ...

Suggest it is NSFW so I've not clicked on it.

TedJanuary 5, 2017 1:45 PM

Is it because the typewriter uses a mono alphabet substitution cipher that it is no longer being made? Mehano does appear to offer a ‘Hello Kitty' laptop, though I am wondering if it has a cryptographic/printing function or if it could ever replace that vintage feel.

http://www.mehano.si/market/toys

JohnJanuary 5, 2017 6:32 PM

The Barbie-typewriter ..
Now, THAT is a lot more interesting (and important) than Assange denying your "Russia Hacked Our Elections " PROPAGANDA-BULLSHIT, isn't it Bruce ?

CalJanuary 6, 2017 3:38 AM

"As it was probably thought that secret writing would not appeal to girls, the coding/decoding facilities were omitted from the manual."

Well, really! Aside from the damaging cumulative impact of such narrowing assumptions, this couldn't have been further from my own childhood experience. Back then, if it was worth saying at all, it was worth saying in code...

mark hutchinsonJanuary 6, 2017 7:50 AM

Does anyone know if the encoding setting can be changed on a character-by-character basis? I wondered if you have to go through a stop cycle between crypto cycles or if you can just choose a different table at will.

albertJanuary 6, 2017 3:26 PM

Durn it, now what's the CIA to use for its furrin agints?

@Cass.,
A Klaus Barbie Doll would be beyond spooky, but perhaps it might be fun to have 'war games' with a Mossad Barbie Doll. And throw in a Bondage Barbie for good measure. Note: the Obama Barbie Doll is no fun. It sits on its hands for 8 years.

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