Visit Top Secret Spy Exhibition in London Science Museum

Visit Top Secret Spy Exhibition in London’s Science Museum

Last edited: January 2, 2020
Reading time: 2 minutes, 26 seconds

Until February 23, 2020, you can visit the free exhibition “Top Secret: From Cyphers to Cybersecurity” in London’s Science Museum. The exhibition marks the 100th birthday of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the United Kingdom’s intelligence and security organization.

From World War Coding Machines to 21st Century Cyber Threats

“Top Secret” takes vistors on a journey through the world of codebreaking, ciphers and secret communications. From the trenches of the First World War to the latest in cyber security. There are more than 100 artefacts on display. Some of the objects have never been seen before. “They’ve been declassified for our exhibition”, curator Elizabeth Bruton said at the time of the opening.

The central theme through the exhibition is “keep and revealing top secrets”, as seen through the lens of the GCHQ over the last century. Visitors will discover the spy-craft used by the Portland Ring in Cold War Britain and can catch up with the latest IoT smart devices many of us have in our homes today.

One of the star attractions is the Enigma Machine captured by Britain in 1945 and on loan from the GCHQ. Here visitors will learn how the Bletchley Park codebreakers broke the Enigma Code in 1941. It is one of the iconic pieces of equipment used by Nazi forces to encrypt their messages.

Three Main Sections

There are three main sections. First, visitors pass through the historical section. Next, visitors move to the interview section, which is more thematically structured. Finally, there is an interactive zone where visitors can put their own codebreaking skills to the test.

The richest part of the exhibition covers the period from WWI to the Cold War. One item shows the encryption key used by Queen Elizabeth II to make sure her phone conversations were not tapped. Also on display, is the phone Margaret Thatcher used to scramble her conversations when she was Prime Minister. A funny one is the Pickwick telephone, which provided secure lines for British diplomats and government officials. When the lamp glows, the conversation could be deemed secure.

Fast forward to the 21st century, where visitors discover the story of GCHQ today. More recent items include the hard drive of Edward Snowden, the former CIA officer and whistleblower who copied and leaked highly classified information from the NSA. The hard drive was destroyed by Guardian editors to protect ongoing investigations. After the destruction, reporting switched entirely to the US.

Attracting Cybersecurity Recruits

Top Secret offers a unique and informative experience to all visitors, young and old. The exhibition’s interactive challenges are key to one of the end goals of Top Secret: to inspire the next generation of cybersecurity and STEM experts.

The exhibition is free, but must be booked in advance through the Science Museum’s website. The museum is open daily between 10am and 6pm. Top Secret is located in the basement gallery, a rather fitting location for activities that usually take place in secret bunkers.

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