Is there an Enigma bubble?

First it was .com stocks, then it was housing. Now it’s WWII-era German Enigma machines. From a recent CNN story:

An Enigma machine which featured in a Hollywood movie about the codebreakers of World War II has smashed auction estimates and sold for a world record price. 

The encoding device sparked a three-way bidding war when it went under the hammer at Christie’s in London Thursday, selling for £133,250 ($208,137) — more than double the upper estimate of £50,000. 

Christie’s said the previous record for an Enigma machine was £67,250, at the same auction house, in November 2010.

I for one would love to own an Enigma. But unless it’ll lead me to a cache of buried Nazi gold I have to draw the line at $100,000. It’s not like the Enigma algorithm is getting better.

But lack of funding doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be creative.

When I worked at AT&T I was told an (apocryphal?) story about a noted cryptographer who couldn’t afford to purchase an Enigma for himself, so he set out instead to blackmail one out of the NSA. Allegedly it took him only four conference submissions before they gave in. The last paper described how to attack a significant cryptosystem with paper and pencil.

This sounds so improbable that I can’t believe it really happened — which means that it probably did. If anyone knows the story and has a source for it, please drop me a line.

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