Standing on the shoulders of giantsMay 10, 2018
Posted in: Blog
Mark Lubienski, Gospel’s CFO, brings his perspective on what it’s like to work inside a company that is developing solutions that are truly ground-breaking, and how that translates into the workplace atmosphere of a fast growing tech company.
Alan Turing. Bill Tutte. Tommy Flowers. Shaun Wylie. Four giants from the storied history of British cryptography and computing, all of whom served at the Bletchley Park code-breaking centre during the Second World War. Today we might call them geeks, and the odds are that you’ve probably only heard of one or two of them.
As well as being the CFO for Gospel, I’m also a bit of a history buff. Whilst working here I’m often reminded that what we are doing with blockchain is pretty cutting edge. The possibilities for the distributed ledger technology that underpins cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are huge, and the way in which Gospel is applying it to securing enterprise data is, quite simply, pioneering. Now I’m not suggesting we’re doing anything like as worthy as these men, but I do catch a sense of what must have been an exciting and fascinating period of collaboration and innovation back in those days.
Turing’s cryptographic exploits are the stuff of legend. He invented the Bombe, an electromechanical contraption that was successfully used to attack Germany’s Enigma cipher; by the end of the War more than two hundred of the machines were in operation. He had previously published much of the theory underpinning modern computing in his seminal 1937 paper ‘On Computable Numbers’ which first postulated a ‘universal computing machine’.
To his colleagues, the thoughtful Tutte seemed to spend several months doing little more than drinking tea and twiddling his pencil.
To his colleagues, the thoughtful Tutte seemed to spend several months doing little more than drinking tea and twiddling his pencil. In fact, he was quietly devising a method to decrypt Germany’s most complex and most secret cipher created by a machine called Lorenz, which was used by the Nazi hierarchy for the highest-level communications. Tutte had never seen a Lorenz machine, and his achievement has been described as the greatest feat of code-breaking in history.
Flowers was a Post Office telephone engineer of humble background who had become the world’s leading authority on valve technology and switching electronics. He and his team created Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer which was used to automate the decryption method that Tutte had devised. Intelligence gleaned from decrypts provided by Colossus proved vital in the lead-up to the D-Day landings in June 1944.
Wylie had met Turing before the war at Princeton University and was recruited by him into Bletchley Park to work in Hut 8, whose task was the decryption of German naval ciphers. He went on to run Hut 8, returning to academia when the war ended, and in 1958 he was appointed as Chief Mathematician at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). In 1969, Wylie’s team under James Ellis proposed the theory behind public key encryption, the foundation of internet security today.
No doubt they experienced some immense highs, as well as some frustrating lows, as they battled to devise solutions to the very significant problems faced by the allies, and then in pushing the boundaries of modern computing.
As I see our teams problem-solving and scribbling out ideas and working together, I feel a sense of pride that we are following the great tradition of cryptographic innovation begun by Turing, Tutte, Flowers and Wylie. And whilst the threat we face today is more from cyber attacks than bombs and bullets, I never-the-less feel humbled to be experiencing just some of the excitement that they must have felt when they made their cutting-edge discoveries.
Mark Lubienski is CFO at Gospel Technology.
For a 90 second overview of Gospel’s pioneering technology click here.