Premium

The real Q Branch: a glimpse into the top-secret history of encryption devices

The Pickwick phone kept Kennedy and Macmillan in contact during the Cuban Missile Crisis
The Pickwick phone kept Kennedy and Macmillan in contact during the Cuban Missile Crisis Credit: Joe Newman

It is a measure of how things have changed that 100 years ago coders were mostly covert state employees at organisations like the Government Code & Cypher School, the forerunner of GCHQ, which was set up in 1919 but whose existence was barely acknowledged until the Eighties.

Today, coders are the backbone of the world’s most famous and valuable companies – Microsoft, Google, Facebook. And we are encouraged to get our children coding as early as possible so that they may shape the world – not have it shaped for them.

Secrecy has become so public that it forms the sales pitch of smartphone apps that offer “end-to-end encryption” – all the way from your device to your interlocutor’s, no matter the...

To continue reading this article

Start a 30-day free trial for unlimited access to Premium articles

  • Unlimited access to Premium articles 
  • Subscriber-only events and experiences
  • Cancel any time

Free for 30 days

then only £2 per week

Save 25% with an annual subscription

Just £75 per year

 

Register for free and access one Premium article per week

Only subscribers have unlimited access to Premium articles.
Register for free to continue reading this article
Or unlock all Premium articles.
Free for 30 days, then just £1 per week