University of Southampton: Next generation of cyber security experts uncovered

Winners of a national competition aimed at getting school and sixth-form students enthused and passionate about maths and codebreaking have been announced.

Now in its 20th year, the National Cipher Challenge, run by Mathematical Sciences at the University of Southampton, was established to motivate students to consider careers in STEM subjects. This year, 6,250 entrants from over schools and colleges across the UK. Over 2,700 teams took part in the challenge.

Future Alan Turings and Ada Lovelaces joined a fictional cold case team based in the depths of GCHQ, nicknamed “the Archaeologists”. The team spend their time deciphering obsolete wartime despatches and diplomatic communications, unbroken in their day, in the hope of finding something still significant today. Our junior codebreakers immersed themselves in the team of puzzle solvers, linguists, mathematicians, and computer scientists, helping them to decipher a collection of papers and break The Lighthouse Conspiracy.

Cipher 2
The competition is sponsored by GCHQ and leading education and industry partners. It is designed to test children’s abilities to tackle devious codes and ciphers in adventure-style challenges, linked to historical events, hoping to discover the next generation of cyber security experts.

Graham Niblo, competition organiser and professor of Mathematics at Southampton, comments:

“After a difficult 18 months for schools, parents and pupils this year’s National Cipher Challenge gave everyone a chance to escape into a fantasy world of spies, conspiracy and devious ciphers. This was the 20th anniversary of the competition and the Cipher Master was delighted that so many participants joined together to unravel the mysterious Lighthouse Conspiracy, supporting agents Jodie and Harry in their investigations. 283 of the 2768 teams taking part teams made it to the very end and many more have promised to return for next year’s competition.”

The winners of the National Cipher Challenge 2021 are:

The Alan Turing Prize (sponsored by GCHQ)

George Satchwell of Exeter Mathematics School

The Ada Lovelace Prize (sponsored by the Trinity College Cambridge)

Cameron Hembrow, Exeter Mathematics School

Team Name: Big Not Smart

The University of Southampton Team Prize

Team “Loded Cipher” – Max Fenoughty (Captain), Kirils Vinogradovs, Aidan Phillips, WIlliam Garnett of Notre Dame High School Sheffield

IBM Team Prize

Team “Byte our Dust!” – Christopher Brain (Captain), Thomas Simpson, Oscar Mitcham, Christopher Leung, Lyndon Chen of Winchester College



“As well as mathematically-minded students, the competition also attracts a number of competitors who had not thought of themselves as mathematicians and who have struggled in the classroom. For them the thrill of breaking the early rounds and organising themselves into groups to crack the ciphers, marks a real achievement.” Prof Niblo added.

The full list of sponsors is:

GCHQ, IBM, Trinity College Cambridge, The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) , the Bluespark Foundation, Netcraft, 10Degrees and the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications.

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