Earlier this week, Year 11 students participating in the Norfolk Scholars Programme had the opportunity to attend a two day residential at Villiers Park in Cambridgeshire alongside students from schools across Norwich. The theme of the event was cryptography and cryptanalysis, with students split into groups and tasked with mastering a chosen method of encryption, and then devising encrypted codes that other teams (including staff) would attempt to decrypt.
We also had the opportunity to visit the Cambridge Centre for Computing History, where students learnt about the decryption methods employed by the British security services during the Second World War and the crucial role that computers played in cracking Axis communications. The museum also featured a room-sized ‘MegaProcessor’, a scaled-up version of a central processing unit showing the thousands of processes and data transfers that take place every nanosecond in modern devices, and an extensive collection of antique computers and games consoles (which several members of staff were dismayed to see as museum exhibits!)
On the final day, each team ran an interactive workshop describing the intricacies of their encryption techniques with opportunities for other teams to have a go at encrypting and decrypting messages using the Fleissner, Myszkowski, PlayFair and Trifid ciphers, among others. At the conclusion of the event, students were dismayed to learn that the accompanying staff members had arrived top of the leader board through an altogether more insidious method of decrypting data: walking around and taking photographs of students’ work, demonstrating the importance of safeguarding and protecting your personal data at all times!