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Registration for 2019 Alan Turing Cryptography Competition and MathsBombe is open

The Alan Turing Cryptography Competition, now in its 7th year, is an online competition run by the University of Manchester School of Mathematics, for school students up to year 11 or equivalent. Cryptographic puzzles are released every couple of weeks and teams of up to four compete to solve the puzzles, with prizes for the fastest and other randomly selected correct entries. Registrations are open now, and the competition starts on 28th January 2019.

For sixth form pupils, there is also MathsBombe – an online competition, with two mathematical puzzles released every fortnight. The puzzles are not directly related to the A-Level syllabus but will require students to use their problem-solving skills.

Further information

Alan Turing Cryptography Competition

Review: The Mathematics of Secrets by Joshua Holden

Any book on cryptography written for a more-or-less lay audience must inevitably face comparisons to The Code Book, written in 1999 by Simon Singh, the king of distilling complex subjects to a few hundred pages of understandable writing. While Singh’s book is a pretty thorough history of codes and codebreaking1 through the centuries with plenty of the maths thrown in, The Mathematics of Secrets is tilted (and indeed titled) more towards a fuller explanation of the mathematical techniques underlying the various ciphers. Although Holden’s book follows a basically chronological path, you won’t find too much interest in pre-computer ciphers here: Enigma is cracked on page seventy, and the name Alan Turing does not appear in the book.

  1. I will in this review unapologetically make no attempt to maintain any distinction between the terms code and cipher; cryptography, cryptanalysis and codebreaking, etc. []

Maths at the British Science Festival 2016


Next week, the British Science Festival will take place in Swansea, in and around the University. Here’s our round-up of all the mathsiest of the maths events taking place during the week. Our own Katie Steckles will be there introducing most of these events, so you might spot her at the front telling you what to do if there’s a fire. You’ll need to register to book tickets, but all the events are free.

GCHQ has declassified James Ellis’s papers on public key cryptography


Robert Hannigan, the Director of British intelligence agency GCHQ, gave a speech at MIT recently on the currently contentious issue of backdoors into encryption.

To accompany his speech, and maybe to reaffirm GCHQ’s credentials on the subject, he published two papers written by James Ellis in 1970 about what would become public key encryption: “The Possibility of Secure Non-Secret Digital Encryption” and “The Possibility of Secure Non-Secret Analogue Encryption”.

The story famously goes that two decades after Rivest, Shamir and Adleman announced the RSA algorithm for public key cryptography, GCHQ admitted that their employee Clifford Cocks had come up with essentially the same thing four years before, inspired by James Ellis’s papers on the possibility of cryptography without a secret key.

More information

Rober Hannigan’s speech, Front doors and strong locks: encryption, privacy and intelligence gathering in the digital era.

Read the papers: “The Possibility of Secure Non-Secret Digital Encryption” and “The Possibility of Secure Non-Secret Analogue Encryption” by James Ellis.

‘The Imitation Game’ Cryptography Competition

imitation game codes

To celebrate the release of the upcoming Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game (see our incisive analysis of the film’s trailer by James Grime) the guys at the University of Manchester – who have previously run the hugely successful Alan Turing Cryptography competition – have been asked to run a one-off Imitation Game Cryptography Competition. And they have.

The competition is themed around the (possibly true? Who knows. It’s not like it’s my job to research these things) idea that Alan Turing’s fortune in silver is buried in a secret location somewhere near Bletchley Park, and it’s your job to crack the three coded clues and find out where. Prizes will be in the form of exclusive Imitation Game merchandise donated by the makers of the film, and the competition runs until the 28th of November.

More information

Imitation Game Cryptography Competition

Interview: Alan Turing Cryptography competition

The University of Manchester is holding another cryptography competition (as featured in this news post earlier this week). We spoke to Charles Walkden, one of the competition’s organisers, about the project.