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Breaking cyber security codes


Peronel Craddock, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at Bletchley Park Trust.
Peronel Craddock, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at Bletchley Park Trust.

by AMIT ROY BLETCHLEY PARK in Buckinghamshire, 40 minutes by train from London, is part of British folklore because this is where 13,000 people, among them mathematical geniuses such as Alan Turing, worked during the Second World War, breaking Enigma and other German codes. The venue was so secret that its existence was not widely known until 1974. Bletchley Park, now a heritage site and open to the public, is currently holding an exhibition to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1944. But there are modern lessons to be learnt from Bletchley Park, where the Government Code & Cipher School (GC&CS), founded in 1919, was based from 1939-1946 and which was renamed as GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) after the war. Perhaps the most important lesson is that the codebreaking skills which allowed Britain’s most patriotic and innovative men and women to win the war against Nazi Germany are used by today’s hackers to break into personal computers. Dr David Kenyon, resident research historian at Bletchley Park – his book, Bletchley Park and D-Day, is due out shortly – offers a blunt piece of advice: “Change your password every week.” What enabled the British to crack the German Enigma code was “human error”. Learning officer Tom Briggs said that those same errors are made by people today, though at a much more basic level. For example, people tend to use predictable passwords – names of pets, family members or birthdays – making it simple for hackers to guess what these might be. At the Day-Day display, head of exhibitions, Peronel Crawford, carefully pulled out examples of German messages, decoded, translated into English and written up on slips of paper. By the time the Allies were ready to land on the beaches of Normandy, Bletchley Park had provided commanders…

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