GCHQ releases teen-friendly code-busting app

Cryptology fun for the whole family

British surveillance agency GCHQ has launched its first app today in the hopes of encouraging 14- to 16-year-olds to get interested in cryptography.

"Cryptoy" was developed by STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) students on an industrial year placement at GCHQ and was a hit at the Cheltenham Science Festival. GCHQ liked it so much it has made it available to download today.

The app allows users to share encrypted messages using four historical techniques – shift, substitution, Vigenère and Enigma – while teaching them about the codes of the past.

A spokesperson from GCHQ says that with the UK youngsters needed to be motivated to take up subjects like maths and computer science. “If we’re going to get the next generation of security experts, we need to be encouraging them to take up these subjects,” she said at the Cyber Security conference, where the app was announced.

Teens might not really need another excuse to hide what they’re sending each other, though. The increasingly infamous and overused Snapchat app already offers the chance for them to send naughty pictures and messages without the threat of being found by their parents.

However, Cryptoy is not available on Apple devices yet, which could eliminate interest from about a large portion of its target market.

So, a useful tool that's also a new way for children to worry their parents? Maybe, but never mind. ®

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