Australian Signals Directorate releases secret code coin to mark 75th anniversary of cyber spy agency

Your spy skills may soon be put to the test by a new 50 cent coin covered in secret, coded messages.

The commemorative limited edition coin will be released today to mark the 75th anniversary of the national foreign intelligence cybersecurity agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).

Although the coin is not intended for circulation, 50,000 special coins will be available for purchase from the Royal Australian Mint, each featuring four levels of coded messages for budding detectives.

ASD Executive Director Rachel Noble said the piece celebrates the work of agency members and the evolution of codebreaking.

“Back in World War II, our people, military and civilian, and mostly women… used pencil and paper to decode Japanese military codes, then re-encode them to send to the allies to let them know where the Japanese fighters,” she said.

“We’ve used this part of our history in different layers, which represent advancements in encryption and technology over our 75 years.”

Puzzle is a new recruitment system

A man and a woman, both in suits, smile at the camera, standing in front of a very large 50 cent coin.
ASD Chief Executive Rachel Noble and Mint Chief Leigh Gordon say the hidden messages are a nod to history.(ABC News: Mark Moore)

The piece serves a wider purpose than just being a fun puzzle to solve, with Ms Noble saying those who crack the codes could be “pretty well placed” to get a job at ASD.

“We thought it was a really fun way to engage people in coding with the hope that if they pass all four levels of coding on the play, maybe they’ll apply for a job in Management. Australian signals.”

This is not the first time that a usually secretive government agency has opted for a very public means of recruiting new employees.

In 2017, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service launched an online test with a series of scenario challenges, targeting Australia’s next generation of international spies.

Then, last year, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization used Instagram to expose the secrecy surrounding the lives of contemporary spies.

Tips for decoding the secrets of the room

An Australian silver 50 cent coin, featuring the Queen's head.
Both sides of the coin contain parts of ASD’s encrypted puzzle.(Supplied: Royal Australian Mint)

The ASD claims that the coin’s four different layers of encryption are each increasingly difficult to crack, and clues can be found on both sides of the coin.

Royal Australian Mint chief executive Leigh Gordon said crypto experts worked with the Mint to design the coin, although he added that even after the design was completed, adjusting the codes on the faces of the part was a complex process.

“Although the 50 cent coin is Australia’s largest coin, it still doesn’t have a lot of surface area,” he said.

“Making sure people could see the code to crack it was one of the challenges our people were able to solve with ASD, to create a unique and special product.”

Ms Noble said that while there were no classified messages on the piece, those who cracked the codes could discover “wonderful and uplifting messages”.

“Like the early code breakers in ASD, you can break through some of the layers with pencil and paper but, towards the end, you might need a computer to crack the last level,” he said. she declared.

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