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2nd February 2017

This week, we caught up with second year Computing student Ellie O’Leary, who has bravely taken on the National Cipher Challenge. She told us about her experiences, and encouraged other budding code breakers to give it a shot! 

Ellie and Kajetan

Ellie and Kajetan

“The Southampton National Cipher Challenge is a nationwide, online code breaking competition that runs for approximately 13 weeks. During this time, 8 challenges are released with each challenge having two parts of text to decrypt. The challenges start off using fairly simple ciphers, like a caesar shift cipher or another simple substitution cipher. As time goes on, the types of ciphers used begin to be more advanced and many times, part of the puzzle is figuring out which cipher is being used.

I've participated in the Cipher Challenge twice now and, as a result of my participation, my programming and logic skills have massively improved. One of the most important qualities to have as a programmer is patience and this challenge certainly tests that patience in the final few challenges. Often you will get completely stuck or your decryption code you've written isn't properly decrypting the message and you have no idea why not. All these problems that you will end up facing with the Cipher Challenge will strengthen your resolve but also force you to think outside the box. Sometimes you'll go back to pen and paper, painstakingly working through each part and all of this will help you in the future when you are programming.

The Cipher Challenge also opens up a whole new area of computing if you've never thought about cryptography before. After spending time reading multiple articles, trawling through websites and scanning books, I became increasingly interested in cryptography. As a result of this, I incorporated what I had learned from the Cipher Challenge and my own research into my Year 2 Computing Project.

Participating in the Cipher Challenge not only broadens your abilities as a programmer, but also broadens your abilities in multiple aspects. Being able to face a problem head on and continue to bash away at it will come in incredibly handy in the future and this is why I'm encouraging any computer science student to enter the challenge and give it a go.”