At team NBU, we’re always intrigued to explore how the subject matter of our work relates to the world around us. Technology infiltrates the everyday in so many ways, from the way we communicate with one another to the security of our most private information. This week, designer Stephanie Howard visited an exhibition at the Science Museum looking at the evolution of encryption, from Enigma to emails.
While commuting into work one day, I saw a compelling exhibition poster: “Top Secret: from ciphers to cyber security”.
I’ve always been intrigued by the development of code systems and their functions, so I went along to find out more.
Sponsored by the Government Communications HQ, the exhibition coincides with its 100th anniversary. It features unseen artefacts from the Science Museum Group and GCHQ’s historic collections – and paints a fascinating picture of the timeline of ciphers. It starts off in the trenches of the First World War, with a variety of gadgets and devices used to conceal sensitive messages. It was really interesting to see how these developed in the lead-up to World War II.
The “Enigma machine” was particularly intriguing. It looks like a high-tech typewriter – and is also known as the greatest encryption device in history! Every single piece of information that went through the machine was encrypted to create a German Nazi code. To decipher the code you needed to know the settings of the machine.
There were a staggering 159,000,000 possible setting combinations. Alan Turing, who worked at the Government Code and Cipher School in Bletchley Park, cracked the Enigma code in 1941. He used various techniques and a machine called “The Bombe” to run mathematical calculations to allow him to find a flaw in the Enigma system. He cracked the code. He helped gain the crucial upper hand in the war.
The exhibition also showcased original intercepted German messages which provided the allies with vital information, giving them an advantage over their enemies.
Then, as you journey through the exhibition you arrive in the modern “digital age”. This section explores our relationship with smart devices, and the potential for our data to be misused.
In this section, an exhibit I found fascinating and scary was by artist Christopher Baker. Baker wanted to make a statement about how much personal data we give away online. To illustrate this, he programmed 10 printer tickets to search Twitter for tweets containing grrr, meh, oooo, ewwww, and argh. These were then printed in real time. As the tweets mount up, the massive tangled mound of paper grows in front of you. It’s a stark reminder of how much data we give away.
As I left the exhibition, I was left amazed at how far technology has advanced, and how society has evolved from sharing hardly any personal information to giving it away – often freely. It was fascinating.
The exhibition was definitely an eye opener and made me think about my own online interactions and the data I share. I highly recommend checking it out for yourself. It’s free and on until February 2020, however booking is required. For more information click here.