Courtesy of Business Insider:
“Government Communications Headquarters, the British government’s listening agency, has broadcast a puzzle to encourage prospective spies, particularly young girls, to pursue a career in the highly classified organisation.
The challenge was supplied to BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme, which broadcasts a puzzle every morning as part of its regular “Puzzle for Today” slot. (it is a puzzle from the CyberFirst Girls Competition)
Monday’s puzzle was submitted by the National Cyber Security Centre, a recently created GCHQ subdivision dedicated to protecting critical UK infrastructure from cyberattacks.
The NCSC is trying to pique the interest of girls in secondary school and submitted its puzzle as part of a campaign aimed at 12- and 13-year-olds.
Here’s the text of the puzzle:
Thirteen rotters stole my answer and they ROTated it by 4 and then ROTated it by 10 and all I have left is Uccr ziqy hc ozz QmpsfTwfgh Uwfzg! — can you help me get my answer back?
How it works
Though the NCSC is a new agency focused on the internet, this puzzle is thousands of years old.
It’s an example of a “Caesar cipher,” in which every letter of a message is shifted (or rotated) through the alphabet by a fixed number of letters.
“Thirteen rotters” is a reference to “ROT13,” a cipher that shifts letters exactly halfway along the alphabet (A becomes N, N becomes A) and is a hint that the puzzle is dealing with a 26-letter alphabet.
Using puzzles to scope out talent is an old trick of British intelligence services dating at least to World War II, during which Bletchley Park recruited code-breakers via The Daily Telegraph’s cryptic crossword.
Here, GCHQ is trying to promote puzzle-solving in young people with something fun and easy to understand.
Rotational ciphers are not good encryption by any modern standards — it takes a tiny amount of computing power to blast through all possible combinations and give you an answer. More sophisticated variants, using grids and other mathematical processes, will help, but not much.
Still, the NCSC’s hope is that it will plant the idea in young people that a career in cybersecurity — particularly at a security agency — could be for them.
The agency has acknowledged it has a diversity problem: The latest official figures show that just 35% of staff members and 10 of its 55 top officials are women.
It is also struggling to recruit overall, having recruited only 500 staff members — short of its target of 640 — while bleeding top talent to the likes of Facebook and Google, which can offer up to five times the money.
Members of Parliament’s Security and Intelligence Committee wrote in their most recent report that improving diversity in the agencies by appealing more to women and ethnic minorities is more than window dressing. They concluded that a wider range of backgrounds would provide a “competitive advantage” against rival states and bad actors and therefore is an issue of national security.”