Cracking the Code

18 January 2018

Sixth former, James Hogge, is celebrating winning the £1000 first prize, sponsored by GCHQ, in a national code-breaking competition. The National Cipher Challenge is run by Southampton University and this year over 8000 people took part from across the UK, some competing in teams and others, like James, as individuals. This was the third year that James has entered the competition and, having been runner-up twice, he was delighted to pick up the top prize this time. 

The National Cipher Challenge started in 2002 and is an annual online competition that tests participants to solve encrypted messages set by the University. The latest competition released eight challenges between September and December 2017. The encrypted messages told the story of the mystery of Rome’s Lost Legion and participants eagerly awaited each challenge, racing to crack the code in the time allowed.

James says, “The first two challenges were reasonably straight forward but as they progressed they got more complicated and the eighth was really difficult, it took me about seven hours to break it.”

Winners were announced in January and there will be a prize-giving at Bletchley Park in March. The news topped off a successful week for James who also received an offer of a place to study Computer Science at Cambridge - A level results permitting. Asked whether he would like to continue his interest in code-breaking, James said, “It’s certainly a fascinating area to work in, you could end up at the frontline of national defence. For the moment though I’m thinking of how I will spend the prize money, although I’ll have to keep some to help with university, I am also looking forward to a holiday!” 

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