UK spy agency asks hackers to crack code

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LONDON (AP) - Can you crack the code?

That’s the question Britain’s electronic listening agency, GCHQ, is asking in an online campaign to find the next generation of cyber specialists.

GCHQ quietly launched a cryptic website last month featuring a box of code made up of numbers and letters. There is no branding on the site, only the phrase “Can you crack it?”

The agency has now revealed it is behind the campaign, and said Friday it’s trying to reach individuals with “a keen interest in code breaking and ethical hacking” for careers at GCHQ.

“It’s to arouse interest in people who perhaps might not be caught by our normal recruitment campaigns,” a GCHQ spokesman said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

Cracking the code reveals a keyword, which when entered into a space on the website prompts the GCHQ job-recruitment website to appear.

The agency is currently recruiting for cyber security specialists _ at a pay grade of around 25,000 pounds ($39,000) _ and hopes to recruit around 35 people over the next few months, the spokesman said.

More than 50 people have successfully cracked the code so far _ of which 80 percent have submitted an application, the spokesman said.

GCHQ said the fast-moving pace of the digital arena and cybersecurity means it must find new ways to engage with prospective candidates, who typically have entered the agency as graduates.

“With the threats to information and computer technology constantly evolving, it is essential that GCHQ allows candidates who may be self taught, but have a keen interest in code breaking and ethical hacking, to enter the recruitment route too,” it said in a statement.

But career hackers beware: “Anyone applying who has hacked illegally will not be eligible to continue in the recruitment process,” GCHQ warned.

And gaming the website isn’t a guarantee for joining GCHQ’s ranks. The spokesman said that while anyone who cracks the code likely has an aptitude for GCHQ’s type of work, it won’t catapult code-crackers ahead of other job applicants automatically.

The agency said it has been using social media to get the word out and that the site has attracted about 8,000 hits.

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