GCHQ challenges codebreakers via social networks

Screen shot of the code breaking challenge GCHQ says the competition has a certain level of difficulty

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UK intelligence agency GCHQ has launched a code-cracking competition to help attract new talent.

The organisation has invited potential applicants to solve a visual code posted at an unbranded standalone website.

The challenge has also been "seeded" to social media sites, blogs and forums.

A spokesman said the campaign aimed to raise the profile of GCHQ to an audience that would otherwise be difficult to reach.

"The target audience for this particular campaign is one that may not typically be attracted to traditional advertising methods and may be unaware that GCHQ is recruiting for these kinds of roles," the spokesman said.

"Their skills may be ideally suited to our work and yet they may not understand how they could apply them to a working environment, particularly one where they have the opportunity to contribute so much."

The competition began in secret on 3 November and will continue until 12 December.

GCHQ said that once the code was cracked individuals would be presented with a keyword to enter into a form field. They would then be redirected to the agency's recruitment website.

The organisation said it was not worried that the problem's answer might be spread around the internet.

It said it would still benefit because the resulting discussion would "generate future recruitment enquiries".

However, it added that anyone who had previously hacked illegally would be ineligible. The agency's website also states that applicants must be British citizens.


The move was hinted at two months ago when Prime Minister David Cameron presented his government's response to the Intelligence and Security Committee's annual report.

The document noted the committee had concerns about GCHQ's "inability to retain a suitable cadre of internet specialists" to respond to cyber threats.

It said that the Cabinet Office supported "initiatives such as the Cyber Security Challenge, which promotes careers in cyber security via annual competitions and events".

Screen shot of the code breaking challenge Anyone who breaks the code will be invited to apply for a job

Following this the government announced last week that it would set up a specialist department within GCHQ.

The Joint Cyber Unit will concentrate on tackling the growing threat of cyber attacks from organised criminals, terrorists, hostile states and hacktivists.


GCHQ claimed that this was the first time this sort of challenge had ever been conducted by an organisation to target these sorts of skills.

However, the agency has used unusual recruitment methods in the past.

In 2009, it placed video content, themes and downloadable pictures on the Xbox Live network which appeared during Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed and other video games.

Two years earlier, it targeted gamers by placing digital posters in online titles including Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas and Splinter Cell Double Agent.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Is it possible that someone will, figure out the code in the next couple of days, post the results on twitter, which could lead to the sight being inundated with the correct answer?

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I thought about applying at GCHQ when I needed a job. Im reasonably proficient in programming/logic problems. But I didn't. Because I know they are recording every move we make online. And that sounds like I live in China.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    A lot of cynics on today. Nice idea GCHQ. I hope you get what you want, however, you'll need to something about the poor salaries on offer down there at the Doughnut..

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Hmmm Nice to see that GCHQ watch a bit of television sci fi in their spare time, the code in a game was the basic premise of StarGate: Universe. Problem is GCHQ is so far behind the times they will end up with not 1 or 10 Eli Wallace's (the character on the programme) but will end up with 1/2 the online community able to crack it. LOL

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    This is nothing new. During the war, a cryptic crossword competition was sponsored by Bletchley Park code breaking centre to identify possible recruits. Even with the latest supercomputers, the human brain has a way of thinking laterally to join up seemingly unconnected sequences.


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