Think you’ve got the chops to be a spy? John Burns reveals a way to apply in the New York Times:
According to traffic on Twitter, Facebook and scores of other Web sites, at least 50 people have solved the puzzle since it was posted unobtrusively last month. To all but practiced cryptographers, it looks baffling: a rectangular display of 160 letters and numbers, grouped in twos in blue against a black background, under the overline, “Can you crack it?” Beneath it, a digital clock ticks down the seconds left until the competition closes.
The agency that posted the puzzle at www.canyoucrackit.co.uk is one of the oldest, and, espionage experts say, most successful eavesdropping organizations anywhere, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, located in a vast doughnut-shaped building surrounded by huge satellite dishes in parkland near Cheltenham, 120 miles west of London.
Helped by a hand-in-glove relationship with its American counterpart, the National Security Agency, which provides access to data downloaded from a pervasive network of American spy satellites, GCHQ can hack into phone calls, e-mails and computers virtually anywhere in the world. With language experts speaking everything from Amharic to Kazakh and 70 tongues besides, it has played a crucial role in cracking some of the biggest terror plots against the West in recent years.
Once decrypted, the agency’s online puzzle, through a process experts call steganography, yields a hidden message in the form of a keyword. Those who enter the keyword are led to a Web address, where they are greeted with a congratulatory note. It is signed by a group calling itself Cyber Security Specialists, a newly formed unit within the British agency that is responsible for combating the cyberespionage threat that British officials have listed alongside terrorism, organized crime, and drug and weapons smuggling among the nation’s biggest security threats.
“So you did it,” says the congratulatory message. “Now this is where it gets interesting. Could you use your skills and ingenuity to combat terrorism and cyberthreats? As one of our experts, you’ll help protect our nation’s security and the lives of thousands.” Those interested are then invited to submit a formal job application, leading to interviews for a total of 35 jobs next spring…
[continues in the New York Times]