Calling all code-breakers and computer geeks: can you solve this?

Crack a code, get recruited as a secret agent. Easy, right?

During World War II, an enigmatic crossword competition was sponsored by Bletchley Park code breaking centre to take on potential recruits. These days, the British spy world likes to keep up with the times. Since social media has already infiltrated every aspect of human life, the search for budding agents capable of protecting the nation’s security has gone viral.

In the last 20 years or so, cyber-crime has rapidly become a significant threat to British infrastructure. To help combat this ever-growing menace, the crème de la crème of the online computer science community has been challenged by GCHQ, the intelligence agency, to solve a particular code cloaked as an internet-based ‘game’. Why, you ask? In the hope that successful players may consider a career in espionage.

The campaign has been planted on various networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter as well as many forums, all of which direct users to a website called “Can you crack it?

Competitors must decipher the seemingly random set of numbers and letters in order to crack the code and reveal a secret word. Those who are successful are then directed to the GCHQ website, where they are invited to apply for a job. The game went online on the 3rd of November and will continue to be available until the 12th of December.
There’s just one snag. In order to eligible for a job within the agency, the code-cracker must be recognised as a British citizen.

This isn’t the first time GCHQ have made use of some fairly bizarre recruitment marketing techniques. According to their website:

In 2007, GCHQ became the first UK recruiter to place banner adverts within games on the Xbox platform which had been created by TMP. As a result, there was a 500% increase in hits to the GCHQ recruitment website and the campaign raised global interest in GCHQ’s work.

Some have suggested that this particular competition is an innovative way to identify candidates with the correct set of skills rather than qualifications, and stands in contrast to the traditional methods of recruiting from the pool of Oxbridge graduates.
The agency has also openly stated that it was not concerned that the answer could be spread around the net, as the ensuing publicity would surely “generate future recruitment enquiries”.

Bond lifestyle unfortunately not guaranteed

Turns out they may regret these words as within hours of the site going live, wannabe spooks had already solved it. Perhaps GCHQ have forgotten that the youth of today are part of the digital age, and coping with the complexities of code may seem like child’s play to some. Is the game really enough to separate the amateur computer jocks from the real programming buffs? Probably not, but it’s a start.

The most important question however is: can Southampton’s best and brightest take a ‘crack’ at it?
Regardless of your abilities, if you think of yourself as a self-taught hacker or a future cyber-savvy spy, be sure to log on to If you succeed, you may just be given a fast path to your dream career.