Code cracking students best in Britain


CODE-cracking Edinburgh Napier students will be crowned the best in Britain tomorrow night (March 13).


A team from the School of Computing used their mathematical skills and powers of deduction to outsmart their UK rivals in the prestigious Universally Challenged competition.


Working in the shadow of logarithms inventor John Napier, the 16th century genius who gives the university its name, they created their own innovative cipher.


The students, whose work was assessed by security experts from Government listening post GCHQ, then set about unravelling the complex codes put together by their competitors.


 L to R: Students Christian O’Doherty (on the laptop), Charley Celice, Peter Aaby, and Professor Bill Buchanan.
L to R: Students Christian O’Doherty (on the laptop), Charley Celice, Peter Aaby, and Professor Bill Buchanan.

Charley Celice, Christina O’Docherty and Peter Aaby, supported by other students, directly cracked rival ciphers using techniques which applied stenography, traditional ciphers and innovative code hiding.


The team cracked more codes than any other university, beating Royal Holloway University into second and Teesside University into third. The other finalists were Plymouth, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Bristol.


Run by Cyber Security Challenge UK, the competition is open to every university in the UK.


The students’ win comes after Edinburgh Napier became one of only four UK universities to get full GCHQ certification for their MSc in Advanced Security and Digital Forensics.


Professor Bill Buchanan, of the university’s School of Computing, said: “I am so proud of our amazing students. I have seldom seen such dedication, and they have had such fun in working together to solve complex puzzles.


“We loved the challenges the other universities gave us, and built up such respect for their skills.


“If there’s one skill which is in high demand in cyber security, it is the ability to solve complex problems, and few things are more difficult than cracking the ciphers generated by others. I am sure John Napier would be happy with our work.”


The university teams had been asked to create as complicated a cipher as possible, and it was then shared with all the other teams. They were then challenged to break as many as possible before the competition ended, with the team that solved the most declared the winner.


The judging panel, who were on the lookout for innovative techniques, a sense of humour and technical complexity, included experts from BSides London and CERT-UK as well as GCHQ.


A spokesman for GCHQ said: “In today’s modern world, we recognise that cyber security skills are key for GCHQ and the UK at large. We are proud to work in partnership with the Cyber Security Challenge to inspire the next generation of talent.”


The Edinburgh Napier team will receive their award on March 13 at an event in London attended by computer security experts from across the UK.

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