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GCHQ code-breaking challenge cracked by Google search

HM Government's finest thwarted by web spider

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A simple Google search unlocks the supposedly secret completion page to GCHQ's code-cracking competition.

The signals snooping agency launched a codebreaking competition this week, promoted via social networks, that aimed to find would be code breakers that conventional recruitment efforts might miss. The canyoucrackit.co.uk challenge involved making sense of a 16x10 grid of 8-bit hexadecimal numbers to figure out a password, and then developing a virtual machine to execute code that would lead to the final page.

Puzzle-solvers had 10 days to crack the codes. However instead of solving this puzzle, which was not trivial to conquer, at least if some of the emails we've received are any guide, the completion page could be reached via a simple Google search.

Oops.

"All it takes to find the page is to use the site: command in Google, as the 'Can You Crack It?' webmaster seemingly didn't hide the success page from search engines," Graham Cluley of net security firm Sophos explains.

Given the interest in the competition perhaps it was inevitable that someone would find some sort of side-channel to cheat the challenge, which doesn't mean that the exercise is now not worth participating in especially for those keen on puzzle-solving and base-16 crosswords.

The canyoucrackit.co.uk website was set up in partnership with a recruitment agency and at arm's length from GCHQ itself. El Reg doubts anyone from the intelligence agency was involved in setting up the website, but we are unable to immediately confirm this on Friday afternoon. ®

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