Britain turns to "X-Box" generation code-breakers

LONDON Sat Oct 20, 2012 9:35am EDT

British Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks during a news conference in Nicosia, Cyprus September 7, 2012. REUTERS/Andreas Manolis

British Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks during a news conference in Nicosia, Cyprus September 7, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Andreas Manolis

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LONDON (Reuters) - At the secluded country house where the country's top computer scientists cracked the "unbreakable" Nazi Enigma code, a key factor in victory in World War Two, Britain has begun a hunt to find new cyber spies from the "X-Box" generation.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the government was looking for up to 100 apprentices for Britain's intelligence agencies to emulate the men and women who worked at Bletchley Park, the former code-breaking center just north of London and once the most secret place in Britain.

"Today we are not at war, but I see evidence every day of deliberate, organized attacks against intellectual property and government networks in the United Kingdom from cyber criminals or foreign actors," Hague said.

"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."

In 2012, Jonathan Evans, Director-General of the MI5 domestic spy agency, warned of "industrial-scale" cyber espionage and theft against Britain and cited the case of an unnamed London-listed company which lost 800 million pounds ($1.24 billion) as the result of a state cyber attack from abroad.

The apprenticeship scheme aims to recruit talented potential code-breakers and computer scientists from school pupils and university students mainly to the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the state eavesdropping service.

The Foreign Office said they wanted to tap into the "X-Box" generation who had grown up in a world of social media and interactive computer gaming.

SECRET SITE SAVED

Hague also announced a 480,000-pound donation to help secure the future of Bletchley, whose existence only became public knowledge in the 1970s when its role in the war was revealed.

The cryptographers who worked at the site are credited with helping to shorten World War Two by up to two years and save countless lives by deciphering around 3,000 German military messages a day.

It was here that a team working under mathematician Alan Turing cracked the Enigma code, which the Germans regarded as unbreakable, while scientists also designed and developed Colossus, a truck-sized machine which was one of the world's first programmable electronic computers.

But after the war Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered that the Colossus computers and 200 Bombe machines, used to crack the Enigma code, be destroyed to keep them secret from the Soviet Union, and the unheated, spartan huts where the code-breakers worked fell into a state of disrepair.

The grant announced on Thursday will allow Bletchley to unlock another 5 million pounds in Heritage Lottery Funding to protect the facilities and allow more of what it did to be exhibited to the public.

"Without the code-breaking geniuses of Bletchley Park our country would have been at a devastating disadvantage during the war," Hague said. "And without the men and women of GCHQ and our other intelligence agencies we could not protect Britain today."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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