January 21, 2013
Code Breaking Competition Announces 2013 Winners
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Breaking a code in a competition is usually something that could merit a disqualification, unless that competition happens to be in the field of code breaking. On Monday, it was announced a team from the City of London School has broken a code and in the process won a national competition, now in its 11th year.
The event was organized by Southampton University with support from Britain's Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) and various commercial partners.
In total, some 6,268 pupils from 725 British schools took part in the National Cypher Challenge at the end of 2012, reported the BBC. While prior years have seen as many as 200 teams take part in the annual competition, last year saw 1,600 teams sign up to decode a series of encrypted messages that were released online.
And while the official competition was only for British school kids, teams from Tokyo, Bangkok, Florida and Honolulu also applied to take part in the competition of cryptanalysis. The actual contest ran for a period of two months, with codes of increasing difficulty being released periodically online for each team to attempt to break.
And while 1,600 teams did sign up by the end, only 30 managed to complete every level. Some codes it seemed broke the teams before they could break the codes.
The competition also allowed competitors — many who may not have even had experience with codes — to learn the basics of cryptanalysis. This began with rather rudimentary codes, the most basic of which has been around for eons.
“We started with a Caesar cypher, which is the most basic cypher that everybody learns at school. We ended with a Trifid cypher — the most difficult one this year,” said Graham Niblo, organizer of the contest and a professor of mathematics at Southampton University.
The Caesar cipher simply substitutes each letter in the alphabet for another one that is a fixed number of letters. For instance, where A becomes C, and B becomes D, C become E, and so on. This is considered an easy and quick code to understand but also one that is very easy to crack, even by those with limited understanding of cryptanalysis.
The Trifid cipher, by contrast, is much more complicated and typically beyond the skills of those who have not studied code breaking to some extent. This code involves a complex combination of an advanced version of the Caesar cipher along with anagrams, where words can be jumbled as well.
This year´s codes were also seemingly the most challenging, as Niblo pointed out, this year´s competition represented the longest period of time it has ever taken for winners to decode any of the ciphers.
The team that did pull it out was aptly named “Winning_Combination” and consisted of Samson Danziger, Daniel Hu, Anthony Landau and Charlie Hu from the City of London School. It took them 44 hours 20 minutes to crack the final challenge. They will be the recipients of the GCHQ prize of £1,000.
The IBM Prize of £800 will be awarded to Andrew Carlotti (mad_maths_man) from Sir Roger Manwood's School, who finished the last cipher in 46 hours 54 minutes. The Trinity College prize of £700 will awarded to TeamSolitaire, which included Eve Pound, Thomas Barnard, Tanya Sciamanna, Rachel Sangar, Oliver Kardoosh, Timothy Lennox, Jasmine Brown, Teodor Tzokov, Alexander Murray, Rosemary Stillman, Alice Butler, Thomas Honeywell, and Thomas Wilshaw from King Edward VII School, Sheffield.
The top 50 runners-up will also receive Raspberry Pi computers, and fittingly all the winners will receive their prizes at the codebreaking museum Bletchley Park, which was where codebreakers worked during the Second World War to break various German codes, including those utilizing the infamous Enigma Machine.