FOR mathematicians and IT experts in search of an exciting career, it is an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Alan Turing by employing their skills for Queen and country.
The British Government’s intelligence agency has launched an online competition to recruit the next generation of codebreakers tasked with defending the country from online attacks.
In the latest example of how the nation’s once-secretive security services are embarking on transparent recruitment drives, the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) is inviting people to crack a series of encrypted messages online.
Subject to a rigorous vetting process, those who succeed could be offered a full-time position at the Cheltenham-based agency, providing intelligence for the government, as well as averting the growing threat of cyberterrorism.
GCHQ has launched a website, entitled “Can You Find It?”, which presents visitors with a series of codes consisting of jumbled letters. To those unfamiliar with the world of cyphers and crypt-analysis, the data may seem unintelligible, but GCHQ expressed confidence that the select few capable of solving them could help work to protect British interests.
Jane Jones, head of resourcing at GCHQ, explained: “The 21st century is confronting us with online threats, so we want employees who have evolved with the digital world and therefore have the right skills to combat these challenges. It’s a puzzle but it’s also a serious test – the jobs on offer here are vital to protecting national security.”
Consisting of 28 blocks of five letters and one block of three letters, the codes hold five answers, and are designed to lead those who solve them to an “online treasure hunt” around the internet, where they will have six weeks to find the so-called “final answer”.
The brightest candidates stand to secure a job with the listening post – where a previous generation famously cracked Hitler’s Enigma codes during World War Two – earning anything from £26,000 to £60,000.
The chances of success, however, are slim. A similar initiative last year known as “Can You Crack It?” attracted more than 95 million hits to a dedicated website, with more than 3.2 million people trying their luck to make sense of the codes. In the end, only 170 participants were considered for roles within the intelligence agencies.
A spokeswoman for GCHQ emphasised that by laying down such a formidable challenge, the organisation was demonstrating that it was looking for only the highest calibre of applicants. The very public mission by GCHQ to secure the services of the UK’s brightest minds would have been unthinkable years ago. For decades, the service was a closely guarded secret, with new recruits approached discreetly after thorough background checks.
GCHQ, which has been the subject of widespread criticism alongside its US equivalent, the NSA, in recent months for the way it obtains data, points out that it would encourage entries from “ethical hackers.” But for those who crack the website’s cryptic information yet are deemed unsuitable for service with GCHQ, the agency is offering a few other incentives.
The website contest, which went live yesterday, can be found at www.canyoufindit.co.uk