Analytic Strategies to Crack World War II

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Analytic Strategies to Crack World War II Enigma Machine Codes Provide Insight for Today’s Decision Making

Solving the Impossible Challenge Helped Win the War with Strategies that Help Risk Management Experts Today

ITHACA, NY (Tuesday. 27 April 2021) – A challenge with trillions of potential combinations yet only one right answer may seem unsolvable. The challenge the Allied Forces faced in World War II was cracking the code of the Enigma Machine used by the Germans for secret messages.

Techniques used to crack the code of the Enigma Machine can be used to supplement today’s modern risk management tools, Palisade’s @RISK and the DecisionTools Suite.

Before the war, the allied forces decided deciphering coded German Enigma messages was an impossible challenge. Poland tackled the challenge by initially exploring ways to simplify the challenge, reducing uncertainty at each step. Poland ultimately handed off its work to the United Kingdom, where Alan Turing created a cryptanalytic process in which information was quantified and measured through a measure called a “ban”, which shares similarities to today’s “bit.”

“The adage that a problem well defined is a problem half solved is clearly demonstrated in this challenge with the Enigma Machine,” said Brendan McGrath, CFA, CPA. McGrath serves as chief risk officer and senior vice president for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis. FHLBI is a U.S. government-sponsored regional bank that has serviced Indiana and Michigan financial institutions since 1932. McGrath recently shared his insights into the similar analytical approaches used to crack the Enigma machine and today’s risk management challenges in a webinar, “The Enigma Machine: Creative Problem Solving with the DecisionTools Suite.”

McGrath said it helps to study how the Enigma decryption team creatively solved problems deemed impossible. The decisions they faced are not unlike decisions faced by risk managers every day. Does data contain enough information to make an informed decision? Should an organization wait or go forward given limited information? Should an organization deploy potentially expensive resources, or spend more to get more data?

These same challenges and analytical strategies drive decisions across all industries. For example, evaluating risk at the Federal Home Loan Bank is aligned with a core mission to provide a reliable source of liquidity to member banks, credit unions, community development financial institutions, and insurance companies to support housing finance, asset-liability management, and community lending. Decisions include:

  • Creating credit scorecards
  • Establishing thresholds – the minimum amount of market information needed before an informed financial decision can be made
  • Measuring the amount of information conveyed by infrequent, or outlier financial or market results
  • Quantifying information embedded in financial data and real-time aggregation of market data for large datasets

McGrath said today’s businesses and organizations have similar tools for risk and decision analysis:

  • Risk Analysis – Analyze risk using Monte Carlo simulation and other analysis to show a wide range of possible outcomes for any situation, and how likely each outcome is to occur.
  • Decision Tree Analysis – Visual quantitative displays showing probability and cumulative charts of different outcomes.
  • Sensitivity Analysis – The end results are easy-to-understand tornado charts, spider graphs, and other reports which clearly identify and rank which factors affect the bottom line the most.

“If you don’t think today’s modern risk management and decision analysis tools can help, such as @RISK Monte Carlo simulations, it probably isn’t @RISK’s fault,” McGrath said. “You may have defined the problem incorrectly. Can you reduce uncertainty by redefining the problem? In World War II, that type of strategic analysis helped win the war by deciphering Enigma messages.”

About Palisade:

With more than 150,000 users globally, Palisade Company provides the world’s largest comprehensive risk and decision analysis software platform. Combining over 35 years of expertise and partnerships with over 90% of the Global Fortune 100 across a multitude of verticals, Palisade Company is uniquely positioned to offer a full suite of analytics tools that includes:

Headquartered in Ithaca, NY, Palisade Company helps companies optimize their decision making in many industries that range from finance to oil and mineral exploration, real estate to heavy manufacturing and pharmaceuticals to aerospace, as well as top business schools around the world. For more information on Palisade Company, call 800-432-7475 or visit

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