Hague seeks recruits to break the code of hackers

Fri, Oct 19, 2012, 01:00

PARENTS MAY believe that their offspring are wasting their time with X-Boxes, but British foreign secretary William Hague believes that some may hold the key in the daily battle against cyber-hackers.

Up to now, the British government’s Cheltenham-based intelligence-gathering centre,GCHQ, has trawled for new recruits in Oxford, Cambridge and the UK’s other elite universities.

Now, however, Mr Hague, who travelled yesterday to Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, where the Nazis’ Enigma code was broken in the second World War, believes code-breaking talent needs to be nurtured much earlier.

Launching the National Cipher Challenge, second-level students will be encouraged to join in a UK-wide course run by the University of Southampton to learn about cyber-space and code-breaking.

“Today we are not at war, but I see evidence every day of deliberate, organised attacks against intellectual property and government networks in the UK from cyber criminals,” he said.

“This is one of the great challenges of our time, and we must confront it to ensure that Britain remains a world leader in cyber security and a preeminent safe space for e-commerce and intellectual property online,” he went on.

Seventy new recruits will be hired annually, including “those with relevant experience or vocational qualifications so that we attract a wider pool of cyber talent”, said Mr Hague.

Eighteen-year-olds with three good A levels, or with vocational qualifications in science, technology or engineering will be able to apply for the two-year apprenticeship as an alternative to going to university, he said.

The Bletchley Park successes of 70 years ago were achieved by the young, he said, noting that Winston Churchill had said during one visit that he “knew they were mad”, but that he had not realised that they were so young.

In a Churchillian frame of mind, Mr Hague said: “Young people are the key to our country’s future success, just as they were during the war.

“It will be the young innovators of this generation who will help keep our country safe in years to come against threats which are every bit as serious as some of those confronted in the second World War.”

Now, Mr Hague, a historian of note, is to move an original Enigma coding machine presented to him yesterday into the waiting-room of his private office “where every guest who comes to see me will be able to see it”.

In June, the director general of MI5, Jonathan Evans, warned that one British firm had lost £800 million in income and lost contracts because its computer system was hacked by a foreign competitor.

“They will not be the only corporate victims. The extent of what is going on is astonishing, with industrial-scale processes involving thousands of people lying behind both state-sponsored cyber espionage and organised cyber crime,” he warned in a rare public speech.

Now, British authorities fear that international terrorists or rogue nations could launch attacks on banks, electricity systems and other vital infrastructure – many of which use 30-year-old networks.