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Crack Bombe squad dismantles Reg encryption in an hour

It's no Enigma. Plus GCHQ seeks apprentice SPIES

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Crack codebreakers from the Bombe squad took just over an hour to decipher a Reg message encoded on an Enigma machine yesterday.

The rather unimaginative text, "Reg readers say hi" (sorry, your hack was put on the spot) was sent via Twitter from the Big Bang Fair in London on a real German Enigma machine and then deciphered at Bletchley Park.

GCHQ historians helped your Reg hack to first verify the authenticity of the sender (CMZ) and then header (REG) and encode each letter of the message on the Enigma at the exhibition for young scientists and engineers at the ExCel centre.

Meanwhile, the team behind the Bombe rebuild was at Bletchley Park, following WWII procedure as closely as possible to decrypt the message using the reconstructed Bombe, with the help of students from St Joseph's College in Reading, who tweeted back:

Tony from GCHQ told The Reg that the communications intelligence agency was looking for the more apprentices that it had ever taken on before - 100 lucky youths could be working on classified projects at the engineering espionage hub this year.

The government has been harping on about apprenticeships being the way forward for the country now that most of the nation's young folks have been priced out of a higher education by mind-boggling fee hikes.

GCHQ only took on under 10 apprentices before last year, when 20 places were offered, and that figure has now jumped to a hundred openings for 2013.

Simon, also from the comms headquarters, said that the apprentices could expect to get a taste of most the areas the agency works in, including its classified projects.

"Our apprentice scheme takes young people through most of the different disciplines you actually need for working at GCHQ. It is very intensive in terms of engineering skills," he said.

"In the past, we used to like classicists - and there's still a place for those sort of people and also linguists, we're quite keen on linguists - but engineering, most people would be involved in software engineering, but not all, there's some field engineering, going up and down masts… some radio work."

He also said that the intelligence agency wanted to increase the diversity of the people it hires.

"One of the things about GCHQ is that we always feel we're slightly less than we'd like to be even though actually we are quite well respected within government," he said modestly.

"So one of the things is that we want to be more innovative, so there's a big emphasis at the moment on encouraging things like you're seeing here where people are given time to think about new and different things, being creative, not being just asked to do straightforward delivery of specific things but to go beyond that and do more interesting things - things that are likely to be of use but not guaranteed definitely to be of use straight away."

For obvious reasons, Simon wasn't able to say exactly what he does down in the Cheltenham doughnut, but he did say that a lot of his work was in "innovation" and work with the private sector.

Although GCHQ is still primarily involved with protecting the UK's critical systems - national infrastructure and government communications - as well as more general cybersecurity, the agency also helps companies to evaluate the security of their products and works with the private sector to develop new things.

What those things are, we can't know of course. Simon said "a lot of the work I do is not classified in any way, some of it is completely off the wall, some of it is very focused on specific objects", but when asked to elaborate, he realised the off-the-wall project wasn't classified, but it was patent-pending.

"We see industry as being a resource that can help us but we also have our own intellectual property and it's a balance between what we need to keep secret and what we can encourage in industry," he said.

He added that acquiring patents could even be important to national security at times.

"The role that we've got through patenting is that traditionally there's been a lot of IP held by GCHQ... [but] it's no longer the case that you necessarily have to hang on to all of that IP and the Patent Office is increasingly keen on, not capitalising in the money sense, but understanding what IP the government has and realising the benefit of that," he said. "That includes things like releasing software in the public domain, under a GNU licence for example, or it could mean patenting what you have.

"If you're working in partnership with a company in the private sector and there's an invention being created, there could be an agreement over the licensing of that invention arising from government-owned IP which allows that company and other companies to flourish with that technology and stimulate the economy." ®

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