[ISN] GCHQ code challenge cracked by internet chatterers

From: InfoSec News (isn@private)
Date: Tue Jul 13 2004 - 22:49:50 PDT


By Chris Boffey
Filed: 13/07/2004

The Government's intelligence communications headquarters, GCHQ, is
being foiled by a silent enemy in its attempt to attract potential

GCHQ, which employs more than 4,000 of Britain's brightest minds, set
a fiendishly difficult cryptic challenge on its recruitment website,
testing mathematical prowess and intelligence.

However, the spooks have been beaten by the power of the internet.

Anyone logging on to chat rooms specialising in code-breaking can find
many of the answers, courtesy of millions who revel in crosswords and
mind teasers.

Despite the challenge being posted on the home page of GCHQ less than
three weeks ago, the agency has received hundreds of answers.

The experts who developed the crytography were so confident that it
would be difficult they announced that a help page would be posted on
Aug 2.

Yesterday, GCHQ was trying to put on a brave face, saying: "We have
had an excellent response." However, the experts who monitor internet
chatter for the Government could not resist a giggle at their

Contestants are presented with a series of codes that represent
extracts from written works.

The challenge is to decipher the codes, identify the work, and find a
six-letter word hidden in the answers.

Some of the written works include a book from the Bible, a passage
from a spy thriller that was turned into a film, and an extract from a
Sherlock Holmes story.

Current GCHQ vacancies are for linguists fluent in Albanian, Arabic,
Chinese, Korean, Macedonian, Nepalese, Persian, Russian, Turkish, Urdu
and Punjabi.

The organisation is recruiting information technology specialists for
the twin roles of gathering signals intelligence and protecting
government communication and information systems from hackers and
maintaining the safety of power and water supplies and communications

GCHQ reports to the Foreign Secretary and works closely with MI5 and
MI6 but it also serves a wide range of other government departments.

The role of the Cheltenham-based headquarters is endorsed by Tony
Blair on its website.

He says: "Secret intelligence gives the Government a vital edge in
tackling some of the most difficult problems we face . . .  
intelligence forewarns us of threats to our national security; helps
the Government promote international stability, provides support and
protection to our forces; contributes to our economic health and
strengthens our efforts against terrorrism and serious crime."

GCHQ was spawned from the code-breaking establisment at Bletchley
Park, Buckinghamshire, that cracked the German "Enigma" code in the
Second World War.

It was decided that Bletchley was unsuitable as a permanent venue in
peacetime and in 1947 it moved to the Benhall buildings in Cheltenham,
which were offices for the Ministry of Pensions.

Now GCHQ is moving to new offices to the west of Cheltenham. The
building is costing 330 million, and is locally known as the
"doughnut" because of its shape.

The move is particularly difficult given that moving such complex
systems has never been undertaken in this country.

Outsiders would find it difficult to imagine the sheer power of the
super computers at GCHQ, which are amongst the most secure in the

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