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Top Secret activity trail

Published: 18 March 2021

The Top Secret exhibition looks at the history of secret communications, codes and ciphers, and cyber security today. Investigate the exhibition using this activity trail and find out what you can do with the skills you already have.

Top Secret trail - map (portrait)

Get started

Seek and find...

To get you started exploring, here are two objects to find. Can you use your observation skills to find them?

Portrait of Alan Turing
Who is this a picture of? Why is he so important?
An early 20th century communication device
What was this unusual looking Fullerphone telephone used for?

Teamwork

The GCHQ workforce act as a team within their organisation and collaborate as part of a worldwide network.

Seek and find...

Skynet satellite
What was this satellite a cover story for? How did the public find out?
A red tin of talcum powder
Who used this device? Can you find more clever gadgets for concealing things in the exhibition?
A handbag seen from above
What was found in Mrs Kroger's handbag? Where would you hide something very secret?

Try this...

  1. Look at the objects you can see right now. 
  2. One person choose an object. Don't tell anyone what it is.
  3. Working as a team, take turns to ask a yes/no question about the mystery object.
  4. After each question, work together to try to guess the object.
  5. How many questions will it take you to find the right answer?

Was that easy or hard? Which question really helped? Which question sent you in the wrong direction? Try playing this with any object.

You have just used teamwork and logic to find the answer, just like someone working as an analyst. GCHQ analysts work out all sorts of problems in their jobs. It's like solving a jigsaw puzzle, but often without all of the pieces or knowing what the picture is!

Observation

Codes and ciphers disguise the content of messages. Looking closely and noticing details and patterns is a key part of intelligence work.

Seek and find...

An old red telephone
Why do you think this telephone is red?
An open briefcase with the interior sections opened up
Can you work out what has happened to this object?
A rectangular black telephone
Who used this secure telephone? What kind of secrets do you think they keep?

 

Look closer...

An old cipher machine that looks like a typewriter

Look very closely at the SG41 cipher machine. What story do the details tell you about the object? Explore the questions to find out more. 

  • How are the SG41 keys different from an ordinary keyboard?
  • Could you carry the SG41 around with you?
  • Does the SG41 look easy, or difficult to use?
  • Why do you think that?
  • What can your observations tell you about what the SG41 was used for, or who used it?

You have just used your observation skills to work out how the SG41 was used.

GCHQ have access to a huge amount of information from computer networks in lots of places. Their workforce needs to be good at noticing details and patterns so they can spot when something is unusual online.

Specialists who do Network and Traffic Monitoring use their observations and clues to work out who might want to use the internet to cause harm, then try and stop them before they do.

Creativity

New technologies are continually being imagined and developed to keep our communications private and safe.

Seek and find...

A data server rack
How much information do you think the company who used to own this server rack have stored on all their servers?
A toy bear
Do you have any 'smart' toys in your home?
A petri dish containing dust
What is this dust made from?

Talk about...

A brown sack with HMB Diplomatic Service written on it

These bags are used to securely transport encryption keys. Keys are used to stop unwanted people from reading messages, like a lock and key to your house lets you in but keeps out intruders. Even the way the bags are tied up is part of the security!

  • What ways to send messages have you seen in this exhibition?
  • How did the grown-ups in your group send messages when they were young?
  • How would you send your messages safely?

You have just used your imagination and creativity in this task. Some jobs, like an Ethical Hacker, try to understand how internet technology works and how some people might try to use it to cause harm.

Cyber attackers change how they work very often to try to hide their activity. GCHQ needs people that can think creatively to help solve problems. By using their imaginations, they constantly work out better ways of keeping our information secure.

Skills quiz

Creativity, observation, teamwork, problem solving...

Which of these skills do you already have and like to use? Complete the quiz below to find out!

The best part of the Top Secret exhibition was:

A. Imagining how I would use the technologies.

B. Spotting the details in objects.

C. Solving puzzles with everyone in my group.

D. I can't pick just one!

My favourite thing to do at the weekend is:

A. Something creative.

B. Go outside to watch nature.

C. Play a team sport.

D. I would do all of them if I could.

I like to watch YouTube videos about:

A. Art and making things.

B. People's day to day lives.

C. Challenges and group dances.

D. Puzzles and riddles.

When I come up against a really tough problem, I feel:

A. Excited because I get to think of a solution.

B. Like looking at it from all sides and examining the details.

C. Like asking other people for advice and help.

D. All of the above.

How did you answer?

Mostly A: You enjoy being creative and thinking of new ways to do things.

Mostly B: You like to observe and spot the details.

Mostly C: You like working as part of a team.

Mostly D: You're a mix of all of them! You like solving problems generally and have skills in all the areas that help problem solving.


Share your skills and adventures with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Part of the Science Museum Group