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World War II Codebreakers Unlock Encryption Secrets for Students

February 6th, 2018

Harrow Way Computer Science students were given a taste of life prior to pc’s, touch screens and artificial intelligence during a recent trip to the National Museum of Computer based at Bletchley Park.

Home to World War II’s codebreakers, Bletchley Park is the only place in the world to see the technologies used by both the British and Germans to send and receive encrypted messages. Harrow Way’s computer experts were given an insight into cryptology (writing and solving codes) by the museum’s experts before seeing the Lorenz machine which Hitler used to communicate coded messages to his troops based throughout occupied Europe.

Donna Robertson, Harrow Way’s Curriculum Leader of IT and Computing continues: “Naturally our students are used to the very latest in technology so it was hugely beneficial to be able to show them how and why computing first started. Once they understood how Hitler used the Lorenz to send messages to his High Command they were fascinated to see how the British built Colossus to decode the German messages. The encryption, communication and computing technologies at the core of the Lorenz and Colossus are just as relevant now as they were then.”

The museum is also home to the Harwell Dekatron Computer (also known as WITCH) the world’s oldest working computer. Students saw how slowly the 67 year computer processed just one task at a time, demonstrating how far computers have progressed from filling a room to fitting in a pocket.

Ms Robertson continues: “As well as exploring the history of computing, students also got very hands on programming their own siri applications and writing code in BASIC on BBC microcomputers from the 1980s. Fortunately computers have come an awfully long way but it didn’t stop us all enjoying a retro trip down memory lane as we tried old computing, console and arcade gaming machines!”

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