The Guardian is reporting that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is to trawl social networks for intelligence.
The Cheltenham-based organisation is recruiting maths, physics and computing experts to devise groundbreaking algorithms that will automatically extract information from huge volumes of speech, text and image content gathered “across the full range of modern communications media”.
Read the full article: GCHQ to trawl Facebook and Twitter for intelligence at The Guardian
Previously: Foreign Office gives Bletchley Park £480,000 and announces GCHQ apprenticeships
Tomorrow’s Mathematicians Today 2013 is the second undergraduate mathematics conference to be hosted by the University of Greenwich Department of Mathematical Sciences, with support from the IMA and GCHQ, on Saturday 16 February 2013. Undergraduate students are encouraged to submit an abstract by 1pm on Friday 14 December for a talk on a mathematical topic of their choice. As well as a day of engaging student talks, a keynote lecture will be given by Professor Robin Wilson on ‘Leonhard Euler: Life, Labours and Legacy’. The website promises that
those going into research will gain experience of the process of conference submission, while those going into the workplace will gain valuable experience of professional practice and networking to enhance their CVs and career prospects. Speakers will additionally gain evidence of their professional skills. All delegates will gain insights into a wide range of mathematics of potential value in their future careers. It should be a wonderfully enjoyable day of inspiring mathematics.
I was involved in organising the first Tomorrow’s Mathematicians Today conference in 2010 and at the time I wrote a piece for Mathematics Today explaining why I felt students should attend such an event, which you can read as ‘Improving graduate skills through an undergraduate conference‘.
Registrations have already been received from eleven UK universities.
More information: Tomorrow’s Mathematicians Today.
Having neglected the home of wartime codebreaking since it packed up and left with the end of hostilities, it looks like the Foreign Office is Turing over a new leaf – Foreign Secretary William Hague paid a visit to Bletchley Park on Thursday to make a couple of announcements that will please both amateur and more serious codebreakers.
The BBC reports that two papers by Alan Turing, believed to have been written while he was working at Bletchley Park, have been released by GCHQ. The papers, ‘The Applications of Probability to Crypt’, and ‘Paper on the Statistics of Repetitions’, apparently use mathematical analysis to try and determine which are the more likely Enigma settings so that they can be tried as quickly as possible.
The article quotes “a GCHQ mathematician” saying that GCHQ had now “squeezed the juice” out of the two papers and was “happy for them to be released into the public domain”, but that the fact that the contents had been restricted “shows what a tremendous importance it has in the foundations of our subject”. The two papers are now available to view at the National Archives at Kew, west London.
Source: Alan Turing papers on code breaking released by GCHQ.
When I was a student there was a door in the basement of the university library marked “This door must remained closed at all times”. I remember joking that perhaps no one could remember what was behind it, and of course they couldn’t check.
The BBC are reporting that GCHQ have received two Engima machines used in the Spanish civil war, in exchange for a German four rotor Naval Enigma machine recovered from Flensburg in May 1945, an Enigma rotor box and related documents.
The machines were apparently discovered “almost by chance, only a few years ago, in a secret room at the Spanish Ministry of Defence in Madrid.” The BBC quotes Felix Sanz, the director of Spain’s intelligence service, saying:
Nobody entered there because it was very secret, and one day somebody said ‘Well if it is so secret, perhaps there is something secret inside.’ They entered and saw a small office where all the encryption was produced during not only the civil war but in the years right afterwards.
It’s good to hear the Spanish intelligence service is taking secrecy so seriously, to almost Monty Python levels of silliness.
An interesting article, it also gives a hint at international co-operation. Mr Sanz is quoted saying:
In today’s world it is impossible to work alone. You need friends and allies. I knock at the door of the British intelligence – all three agencies – as many occasions as I need it and I always get a response. And I hope on the occasion where the British services knock at my door, when they leave my house they leave with a sense they have been helped also.
I find this last sentence interesting. It may be entirely coincidental, or a product of translation, but it doesn’t actually say that he helps the British intelligence services. This reminds me of a joke in the opening episode of the excellent Yes, Minister, in which the meeting of the Minister, Jim Hacker, and his civil servant Sir Humphrey, contains the following dialogue:
Bernard Woolley: “I believe you know each other.”
Sir Humphrey: “Yes, we did cross swords when the Minister gave me a grilling over the estimates in the Public Accounts Committee.”
Jim Hacker: “I wouldn’t say that.”
Sir Humphrey: “You came up with all of the questions I hoped nobody would ask.”
Jim Hacker: “Well, opposition is about asking awkward questions.”
Sir Humphrey: “And government is about not answering them.”
Jim Hacker: “Well, you answered all mine anyway.”
Sir Humphrey: “I’m glad you thought so, Minister.”
This BBC press release/story informs us that a Cambridge computer science student called Jonathan Millican has won the UK Cyber Security Challenge.
The BBC story described the competition as “GCHQ-backed”, which made me think it was about canyoucrackit.co.uk, but that seems not to be the case. This thing was apparently a series of competitions sponsored by private companies, leading up to a final at HP Labs in Bristol.
Apart from the GCHQ link, there doesn’t seem to be much mathematical meat in the story – the final challenge seemed to be assessing contestants’ abilities to devise security plans while “appreciating the business situation in which the events happen” which I think is a euphemism for “not spending too much money”.