Bletchley Park cyber security centre opens

News by Tony Morbin

Bletchley Park, the forerunner to GCHQ and synonymous with the Enigma code breakers of WWII, opened its international cyber-security exhibition earlier this week.

The ‘Secrecy and Security – Keeping Safe Online' centre and the associated Computer learning zone have been created as part of a five-year collaborative partnership with McAfee.

Talking to at the opening, Raj Samani, CTO EMEA at McAfee declined to put a figure on the company's investment but noted that it was the largest by McAfee outside the US. It is known that a £5 million lottery grant was matched by £3 million of funds raised by the Bletchley Park Trust used for the restoration project, saving decaying huts which were threatened with being blown down by the next strong wind– as well as building the new exhibition centre and sponsoring an Online Safety Education Officer.

During the opening, former head of MI6, Sir John Scarlett, KCMG, OBE, emphasised the pivotal role of Bletchley Park in hastening the end of WWII by up to two years.

The intention is that the current 150,000 visitors per year should increase to 250,000 within five years, and that this will include McAfee expanding its offering of online learning resources. The aim is that the centre should not just be a heritage site, but also be used as a vehicle to promote STEM subjects, with say code-breaking workshops – teaching maths by stealth.

There is also an emphasis on encouraging young people, particularly women, into the opportunities offered by information technology, noting how some 70 percent of staff during WWII were women.

Trainee journalist Nazan Osman, working with SC, asked one of the surviving Wrens from that time, what she might say to persuade young women like herself today to go into information security. The 91-year-old Betty Webb, who was 18 when she went to Station X as it was called, responded that it was a fascinatingly interesting area to be involved in, that it would both teach and use new skills, and would continue to be interesting as it's always changing.

Discussing the current rapid rate of technological change in communications, she commented: “I suppose it's our fault, starting it all off.”

Webb also provided a flavour of life for those working at Bletchly during WWII – and after. 

“We were sworn to secrecy not to divulge anything we read, heard or saw, and even our families didn't know where we were. They could only write to POB 222 London. And we didn't know what the people in the next room were doing. I didn't know what the person in the bed next to me did, and we didn't tell as we were trained to keep confidentiality.

“It was difficult after the war trying to get a job when you couldn't say what you had done.  It was only in August 1975 that I saw someone I recognised from Bletchley, and she immediately said, “It's out! The secret is out!” Even then it was a slow process to be able to talk about it.” 

The Bletchley Park site includes the Mansion House, which was the base of the Government Code and Cypher School, along with the restored huts which multiplied during the war, now kitted out, sparsely, as they would have been at the time, including plenty of ash trays.

Unfortunately relations are not so good with the neighbours on the estate; The National Museum of Computing, is now fenced off in Block H, on the outskirts of the Bletchley Park site, housing the world's first programmable digital electronic computer and key code breaking engine. There is a separate entrance and a slightly tetchy note on the museum's website: ‘Visit TNMOC for £5 or less. Colossus is open daily. (No need to pay Bletchley Park Trust Entrance fee.)'

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