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UK Recruiting Codebreakers Via Social Networks 85

Demerara writes in with a story about a unique codebreaking competition sponsored by the UK government. "UK intelligence agency GCHQ has launched a code-cracking competition to help attract new talent. The organization has invited potential applicants to solve a visual code posted at an unbranded standalone website. The challenge has also been 'seeded' to social media sites, blogs and forums. A spokesman said the campaign aimed to raise the profile of GCHQ to an audience that would otherwise be difficult to reach. 'The target audience for this particular campaign is one that may not typically be attracted to traditional advertising methods and may be unaware that GCHQ is recruiting for these kinds of roles,' the spokesman said."
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UK Recruiting Codebreakers Via Social Networks

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 02, 2011 @06:02AM (#38235634)

    that'll piss 'em right off!

    • by hairyfish ( 1653411 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @07:00AM (#38235808)
      Even better... crack it then publish the answer so that a bunch of kiddies can apply and screw up the recruitment process. That is a hack all on its own :)
      • by robthebloke ( 1308483 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @07:27AM (#38235888)
        so you did it? [canyoucrackit.co.uk]

        You seem to be assuming that people would want to work at GCHQ? I grew up next door to the place, and as someone who was training to be a programmer, GCHQ was that added bit of motivation to do well at university. It was always a case of "work hard, get a good degree, otherwise you'll have to apply to GCHQ.....". I certainly never got the impression it was an inspiring place to work.....
      • OK: ME9H96KBF3 Anyway, it's clearly a honeypot to attract "hackers"
  • by Buchenskjoll ( 762354 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @06:05AM (#38235646)
    It's "passw0rd"
  • ...call them up and ask the phone drone...

    • I know, I know, bad form etc., but...

      I simply went through Google. Computer security isn't all Hex editors, there's a certain amount (well, 90%) of social engineering involved. I used my social engineering skills (AKA Google-Fu) to locate the solution in about a minute.

      Bad news for GCHQ, I have no desire to work for the Government. I don't care what the renumeration package is.

      • by the_other_chewey ( 1119125 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @07:04AM (#38235822)

        Bad news for GCHQ, I have no desire to work for the Government. I don't care what the renumeration package is.

        Not even if they offer free full IPv6 renumbering for life?

        • If I don't know what that is, I don't need it.

          I don't know what that is.

        • No, it's not renumbering we're talking about, it's renumeration. That's where the UK government says they'll pay you £80.000 but actually pays you £30.000 due to a typographical error.

      • by evilandi ( 2800 ) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Friday December 02, 2011 @08:25AM (#38236070) Homepage

        > I simply went through Google ... bad news for GCHQ

        You seem to think they are recruiting solely for codebreakers.

        They may be recruiting for analysts - people who search for information. Let's say you have an agent in the field, whose cover story is being questioned by the enemy. You want an analyst to tell the agent how to correctly answer the enemy's questions so that the agent's cover is maintained.

        It's quite possible that many of the "correct" answers published are actually incorrect misinformation. A good analyst would use his skills to weigh up which of the supposedly "correct" answers was the most reliable.

        Sometimes the problem at the doughnut is not obtaining the data, but sifting through the massive amount of data to find the information you actually need.

        Like any person living near Cheltenham, I have several friends who work there, and whilst it's entirely possible they're all secret maths geniuses, I doubt it. Codebreaking isn't the be-all and end-all of GCHQ's work, they have to sift and analyse the intel after they've got it.

        • GCHQ certainly want linguists but they don't seem very well paid. Pakistani guy I knew applied for a job there but stopped when he saw how pathetic the wages were. He now works happily for P&G. He also told an amusing an amusing story about being a student in the US. When his fellow students found out he was from Pakistan, some asked if he rode a camel! After he was asked this for the third time, he started saying that he kept one in the parking lot behind his apartment.
  • by Bottles ( 1672000 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @06:12AM (#38235672)

    There's a reason they're recruiting them. And it's perfectly innocent. Honestly. http://earth101.net/?wc [earth101.net]

  • This isn't a recruitment exercise. It's a behaviour observation exercise.

    Any submitted solution is likely to be collaborative and/or copied from the guy who first posts it.

    My experience is that the British intelligence services tend to hand pick people starting with informal chats at the elite universities. If you've spent the last decade awake and seeing how the government uses the services for particular special interests subsumed in politics then you'd have to be lacking completely in moral fibre to purs

    • My experience is that the British intelligence services tend to hand pick people starting with informal chats at the elite universities.

      Your experience? Oh do tell!

      What are the modern Philbies, Macleans, Burgesses and Blunts up to these days?

      • My experience begins and ends with observing that exercise. Otherwise I wouldn't be here making the criticism.

        I can't say the same for some of my ex-schoolchums. :-(

        • Very cryptic stuff: are you sure They didn't get to you too?

          If you want to be taken even remotely seriously, provide names, dates, observed methods and supporting evidence. Go on, amaze us.

          • Look, it's an open secret. Even college newspapers routinely cover it [varsity.co.uk].

            If you think some stranger on the Internet is going to provide exclusive "evidence" of people who were taken on or had some hand in recruiting then you're a fool.

    • Re:no, they aren't (Score:4, Interesting)

      by robthebloke ( 1308483 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @07:45AM (#38235940)
      You are talking about the wrong department. This is G.C.H.Q. we are talking about, not Mi5 / Mi6. They are effectively nothing more than the poorly paid secretary to Mi5. Good programming graduates would go on to have interesting and fulfilling career in the software industry. Those that fail to do that, become teachers. Those that fail to do that, go to G.C.H.Q......
    • good description of whats going on here.

  • Oh the irony - if you're really serious about espionage work, and you've got a Facebook account, then just forget it. There's already too much information about you out there for you to be of any real value.

    • by Nursie ( 632944 )

      Oh the idiocy! How utterly irrelevant that is to a job as a codebreaker!

      Sure, James bond probably wouldn't have a facebook page, but an entirely office-based crypto geek? Who cares so long as they're not posting state secrets, or pictures of themselves on holiday in Iran visiting that nice man Ahmedinejad....

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The more information about you there is available, the more likely that you can be influenced by pressure by other government / coporate agents.

        Blackmail, OBVIOUSLY.

        • by ledow ( 319597 )

          Never heard of misinformation? And it would also show just what the candidate is capable of (i.e. keeping up one identity which is false, which may be useful to someone intercepting communications).

          And if foreign governments can NAME our cryptographers, I'd be more worried about that in itself, rather than anything else they could find out about them.

        • by xaxa ( 988988 )

          Blackmail, OBVIOUSLY.

          They account for this already.

          They don't care if you have three octogenarian boyfriends that you go to BDSM nights with, so long as you don't care if people know, i.e. can't be blackmailed with the information.

    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @07:36AM (#38235912)

      And if you have a "correctly set up" Facebook account, the mail will go to the wrong person.

      Oh, the ironing.

    • So, you're a foreign intelligence agency, and a "student named "bob wabernacky" is entering your country...

      Which of these two things is more suspicious for someone under the age of 30:

      (1) He has a facebook account under that name
      (2) He *doesn't* have a facebook account under that name? ...of course if you are stupid enough to have posted pixel identical pictures to both your real and cover profiles, and they've been indexed by image, I guess you lose...

      -- Terry

  • Why on earth would they post that code as an image...
    • Well, whether it's very MI6 depends on what you expect from the MI6...

      Some government agencies lose a lot of their mystery and scariness once you've seen them from the inside. I don't doubt that it's the same for the MI6.

      • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @08:20AM (#38236046)
        Once you get past the deliberately downbeat entrance and get to the management suite, it's all naked Russian whores, Jacuzzis, champagne fountains, all-you-can-eat Michelin starred restaurants, and cash machines that don't need a card, they just pay out on the secret budget.

        Of course, once you take the job and sign the Official Secrets Act, it's forty years of standing in freezing bus shelters waiting to make contact with a pissed-off FSB clerk in her 50s in the hope of finding out where Putin's going on holiday next month. Unless you went to Eton and Oxford, in which case it's back to the management suite for the rest of your career.

  • solution (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward


  • by Bazzargh ( 39195 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @07:04AM (#38235826)

    20 odd years ago...I had been doing the usual round of physics graduate interviews, GCHQ's was a little different. After getting the security pass to get in and being escorted to the interview room, they told me that I wouldn't be able to ask any questions about the job (except pay). Or rather, that I could ask if I liked, but they weren't going to answer. Weird.

    The point I guess, is that GCHQ don't recruit clandestinely like spooks, even if the interview process is odd. They're part of the civil service, they advertise in the paper, and recruit graduates in the milk round.

    • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @07:17AM (#38235856) Homepage

      They've been advertising on plain Facebook ads for months, if not years.

      Strange that highly qualified computing/maths graduates don't want to snoop on foreign governments (and their own people) when their potential employers are publishing news stories that they can't even intercept Skype calls, are offering zero information on exactly what you're expected to do and how much you'll be paid for it (which is pretty pitiful when they do tell you), etc.

      I'm a maths & computing graduate, with a love and special interest for cryptography. I've seen dozens of adverts by both GCHQ and even MI5 for similar positions in papers, online and everywhere you'd normally advertise jobs over the years. They're obviously desperate for recruits (and seeing the dross that passes for university degrees these days, I'm not shocked).

      But they don't give you even basic information and the only time GCHQ hits the news is when they want more and more control over your communications despite being less and less relevant since public-key encryption started to become the norm (ironically killed, pretty much, by their own invention).

      I think it would be against my principles to actually WORK for them, even if I admire their historical efforts, support the cause to save Bletchley Park, think Turing deserves a little more recognition and respect for his work etc. Nowadays, I just get the impression that GCHQ want to blanket-snoop on my own people for no reason, catch the low-hanging fruit of people too stupid to use encryption (despite the fact that there's not a single recorded instance of someone "breaking" PKE encryption and using the results in a court case, even for terrorism where we've had to let people go or imprison them because we *THINK* they might have something incriminating in the encrypted data), and/or "justify" their existence / funding by creating the occasional terrorist scare story.

      I don't think the bulk of the brains want to work for them because of what they've creeped into, it's as simple as that.

      • I don't think the bulk of the brains want to work for them because of what they've creeped into, it's as simple as that.

        I hope you're right. Thanks for your comment, and sentiment.

  • One gets hired, the rest gets under close surveillance.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 02, 2011 @07:53AM (#38235964)

    I had my first graduate job there, and I was pretty much exactly what they're looking for. Started programming at a young age, maths degree from a top university, CS masters from the same place. I interned there, got a great appraisal and was offered a job. I started working there and I became disenchanted fairly swiftly. Cheltenham is an incredibly boring place to be 23 - the average age at GCHQ is probably mid thirties and most people had families and were settled. We went for after work drinks twice in my year there. Having said that, my job was fascinating. Extremely difficult, but fascinating. However, everything else was awful. Pay was ok - 25k for a grad starter isn't bad (although my university peers were generally on more), but it became clear very quickly that my pay rises were non existent. If I wanted to stay technical, then I might get to around 40k when I was 40. And that's might with a capital M. It's not really enough to comfortably raise a family and own a home.

    When I told my boss I was resigning, he told me that he was resigning too because otherwise he was going to have to sell his house to cover his debts. He wasn't living an extravagant life - granted he had three young children though. His wife was working 3 jobs, and they were stressed. The only people happy at GCHQ are those who have chosen not to have kids, and often have their spouse working there too.

    I left for a tech startup in London, and after 4 months here I'll be on 50% more than I was at GCHQ, and they'll continue paying me what I'm worth.

    2 other guys left my team (around 10 people who were doing some of the most hard-core deep technical work in computing there) in the neighbouring months when I left. GCHQ cannot recruit and retain good people whilst the pay is so low - which is exactly what was said in the ISC report: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/07/14/gchq_microsoft_google/

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What a great gig! I just solved it and it took me to a position description:

    The starting salary for the GC10 position is £25,446.
    The starting salary for the GC9 position is £31,152.


    • The starting salary for the GC10 position is £25,446. The starting salary for the GC9 position is £31,152.


      $35-40k? With maths like that, sincerely doubt that 'you solved it':
      £25,446 = $39,963
      £31,152 = $48,924

      (Using current exchange rates). Or are you one of those people who finds it easier to just lie and make up figures to prove a point and hope that no-one checks the facts themselves?

  • Some clever programmer could outsource it, pay the hacker, and take the job. :)
    • If you outsourced it to India then the guys who did the work wouldn't be able to apply anyway as you need to be a British citizen to get the clearance for those jobs.

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