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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.

GCHQ Christmas puzzles winners and solutions announced

GCHQ nonogram puzzle

The first puzzle is a super-fun 25×25 nonogram puzzle

Before Christmas, the benign megasurveillance bods at GCHQ released a set of festive puzzles, in the form of a Christmas card and associated website. An initial nonogram puzzle led to a sequence of increasingly fiendish teasers, and solvers of the final set of puzzles were invited to email in their answers, with the correctest winning a fancy paperweight, signed book and, GCHQ were at pains to stress, not an Imitation-Game-style secret job offer.

GCHQ recruits maths, physics and computing experts to analyse social networks

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

Undergraduate conference: Tomorrow’s Mathematicians Today 2013

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.

Foreign Office gives Bletchley Park £480,000 and announces GCHQ apprenticeships

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.

Alan Turing papers on code breaking released by GCHQ

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.