Top Secret: From Ciphers to Cyber Security review

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4 out of 5 stars
Top Secret: From Ciphers to Cyber Security review
Enigma M1070 - Detail © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, GCHQ - 2

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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The Science Museum’s new show ‘Top Secret: From Ciphers to Cyber Security’ is so top secret it’s difficult to even find it in the building. That means one of three things: 1) This is a brilliant joke on the part of the museum to recreate that moment in the war when Britain got rid of its signposts to confuse the Nazis.  2) The guy who makes their signage was on his hols this week. Or, 3) Based on how long it took me to finally locate the exhibition, I’m not GCHQ material.

In any case, it’s an exhibition worth seeking out: a fun little show that’s mainly aimed at the school-aged kids who visit the Science Museum in droves. Although its publicity emphasises code-breaking, it’s as much about intelligence gathering and communication techniques. These range from the rather rudimentary (messenger dogs, carrier pigeons and dispatch riders on horseback in the First World War) to the controversial collection of massive amounts of online data today.

Part organised by GCHQ and making use of its archive, the exhibition can’t help but slightly snooker itself. I mean, it’s obviously not going to reveal any really top-secret information. This simple fact makes the section on the government department particularly dry. There’s a Lego model of GCHQ, a large and colourful quilt commemorating its anniversary, and a remarkably evasive (read: dull) video containing info like the list of jobs staff do. Rest assured, national security will not be breached with the knowledge that it has ‘project managers’ on the books.

Far less snore-inducing is the section on Bletchley Park. Focusing on Enigma and Colossus, the display demonstrates how the work of Alan Turing and Co remains astonishing in its ingenuity and impact. I bet none of those geniuses would have got lost in a museum in central London.

Major criticisms of how data is gathered and used aren’t addressed in depth. But it does include mentions of Snowden and the Zircon spy satellite affair. Overall, it’s a neat introduction to this very mysterious area of work.

By: Rosemary Waugh

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