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The University of Southampton

Foreign Secretary announces start of National Cipher Challenge

Published: 19 October 2012

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced the start of the 2012 National Cipher Challenge signalling this year’s search for the UK’s next generation of code-breakers and computer scientists.

Run by Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and sponsored by GCHQ and IBM, the Challenge offers school-aged participants (10-18 years) from across the UK the opportunity to test their code-breaking skills.

Mr Hague announced the start of this year’s Challenge during a visit to Bletchley Park, the spiritual home of code-breaking, where some of the country’s foremost minds made the breakthroughs necessary to decode enemy messages and turn the tide of World War Two. The Foreign Secretary also announced the launch of a new Apprenticeship scheme to recruit Britain’s most able young people into GCHQ and the intelligence agencies.

He said: “It is part of the living legacy of Bletchley Park that Britain today is an international leader in cyber security. We are determined to preserve this legacy and build on it for the future.

“In the year in which we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, one of the finest mathematical minds our country has ever known and a leading light at Bletchley, we want to step up our efforts to find the most talented people to help sustain and secure the UK’s code-breaking and cyber expertise for the future.

“Young people are the key to our country's future success, just as they were during the War. It will be the young innovators of this generation who will help keep our country safe in years to come against threats which are every bit as serious as some of those confronted in the Second World War.”

Picture courtesy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
William Hague

With its mix of problem solving and intrigue the National Cipher Challenge attracts a wide range of participants, many of whom return year after year to hone their code-breaking skills.

The University of Southampton is one of 8 GCHQ accredited Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security and Professor Graham Niblo, Head of Mathematics at the University was a guest at the event. As Director of the National Cipher Challenge he explained that:

“The contest requires skill and ingenuity and a healthy dose of sticking power, all qualities required by the Bletchley code breakers and their modern counterparts. It is also designed to give a taste of the excitement of using mathematics in a real world situation, something that does not always come across in the school curriculum.

“Jonathan Millican, winner of the 2008 National Cipher Challenge, was named National Cyber Security Champion last year and long-standing sponsors GCHQ and IBM hope that the competition will encourage young people to take up careers in mathematics and IT,” Professor Niblo continued.

Steve Sutherland, a teacher from Harwell, said of last year’s competition, "[The National Cipher Challenge] is a fantastic experience for the children and I'm really grateful for the opportunity that you provide. They worked solidly for near two hours decoding the message. The concentration was amazing and there was such a buzz and excitement when they had finished."

You can find further information and follow further progress of the 2012 National Cipher Challenge online,

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