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Signals snoopers' challenge to wannabe spooks

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GCHQ has launched a code-breaker challenge as part of its attempts to unearth fresh talent from unconventional sources.

The signals intelligence agency's ‘canyoucrackit’ challenge invites would-be codebreakers to crack a visual code at canyoucrackit.co.uk. The campaign will be supported in social media channels, including blogs and forums.

GCHQ traditionally recruits graduates but it is also keen to employ talented self-taught codebreakers and those with an interest in ethical hacking too, an audience traditional recruitment schemes and advertising campaigns might miss. The agency has no interest in recruiting anyone who has even dabbled in criminal hacking.

Individuals simply with an interest in puzzle-solving or cryptography but no interest in working for GCHQ are also being encouraged to attempt to crack the code, as a statement by GCHQ explains.

The challenge is anonymous, GCHQ is not named as the source of the challenge, in order that applying for a career in the department is not the primary reason for the participant to engage.

The desired result of the campaign is to reach those people with the right skills and mindset, and to encourage them to find out more about a career with GCHQ.  Cracking the code is not an assessment, rather a way to connect potential applicants with GCHQ as an employer. There is a level of difficulty to crack the code, but once the code is cracked, wide dissemination of the solution is anticipated in online communities. The discussion this promotes should raise additional interest in GCHQ as an employer and generate future recruitment enquiries.

Anyone applying who has hacked illegally will not be eligible to continue in the recruitment process.

The code breaker challenge is occurring against the backdrop of the UK’s new Cyber Security Strategy, published last week, which gives the signal's intelligence agency a greater than ever role (and budget) to defend both businesses and consumers against cyber threats. Recruitment agency TMP Worldwide is working with GCHQ on the canyoucrackit challenge.

The first phase of the challenge involves making sense of 15x10 grid of what might appear to hexadecimal (base 16) number pairs. Would-be codebreakers have just over 10 days left to come up with a keyword, which will probably allow access to an even more fiendishly difficult puzzler. ®

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