IEEE Computer Society and AT&T joined together to create an Encryption Challenge, and We Have a Winner who Cracked the Code!
IEEE Computer Society
AUG 11, 2015 12:47 PM
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IEEE Computer Society and AT&T joined together to create an Encryption Challenge, and We Have a Winner who Cracked the Code!

Winner is: Matthew Williams

Our winner solved the #crackthecode challenge which was based on the 72nd anniversary of the game-changing Sigsaly encryption system launched in WWII.

Back on July 15, 1943, the first voice encryption system, dubbed Sigsaly, was deployed  enabling U.S. President FDR and UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill to securely hold their top-secret WWII telephone conversations, without the German opposition listening in.

This technology – the first voice encryption system – was developed by AT&T (then Bell Telephone Laboratories) engineers and provided the Allied Forces with a much needed technology to communicate and strategize during the war. In fact, over 3,000 encrypted messages were sent and received using this technology.


We challenged our readers to Crack the Code, and Matt Williams was the winner!  Matt shared his insights with IEEE CS on everything from decoding this challenge to his military background. Read the full interview below:

How long did it take you to crack the codes? I was able to crack the first code in a few minutes but the second and third code took around half an hour each. 

What was the most difficult part of this for you?

The third code was certainly the more difficult, but to me the hardest part was waiting for the next code to be released. I really enjoy doing things like this.


What made you choose to work on this challenge?

I found the challenge on my twitter feed and as soon as I saw it I became curious and I decided that I would figure it out.


Were you familiar with the SIGSALY history/ technology and AT&T’s role in it before entering #crackthecode?

I was familiar with the technology at a very high level, and I certainly know more now after reading the article on AT&T's website.


Were you surprised to hear you were the winner?

I was a little shocked to hear I won. I did not solve each cipher the quickest but my overall time was the best. 


Tell us a bit about your professional background.

My professional career began in 2004 when I took a job as a computer operator working second shift. My responsibilities were mostly mundane tasks like monitoring MVS jobs, maintaining the tape drives, and ensuring the printers were functioning properly. 


Two years later I applied for an Operations Analyst position at the same company. My new duties were focused on automating the daily production batch as well as any other scripts that were scheduled. I also handled monitoring and alerting of server health.


It was around this time that I decided to join the Military. I joined the Tennessee National Guard in October 2007. I had a hard choice when joining, I knew deep down I wanted to be Infantry but I also knew that I could advance my civilian career faster if I chose a technical job. The Infantryman in me won the battle. I enlisted as an 11bravo (Infantryman) and was sent to Fort Benning, GA for training. During my six year enlistment I went to several military schools and deployed to Mosul, Iraq in 2009 to 2010. During deployment when I was not running missions I spent a lot time removing malware from other soldier’s laptops.


In 2008 my employer offered me a position as a Linux Administrator which I accepted as fast as I could. That role was very exciting and allowed me to work on a lot of different pieces of technology. The one negative aspect of this job was being responsible for the backup environment. I cannot stand dealing with backup software anymore.


The year 2012 brought on another internal job offer, this time as a Network Engineer. In this role I was responsible for networking, storage, and securing our perimeter. I learned about switching/routing and working with firewalls.


In June, I approached my management to discuss creating a team focused on security. The proposal was received well and the creation is now in process. Currently I am handling the day to day security task and creating policies/standards.


What got you interested in computer science and/or security?

At the risk of sounding lame, the movie Hackers really impacted me. I wanted to be “Zero Cool “ and crash 1,507 computers in one day. However growing up we were unable to afford a computer, but that did not stop me from reading books on the subject and watching movies.


What is the key thing to keep in mind when cracking codes like the ones shared in #crackthecode?

Patience. Sometimes you will mess up but just try to keep calm and crypto on.


What’s the most intriguing cyber security news story you’ve seen recently and why?

Currently I am concerned about the OPM (US Office of Personnel Management) hack mainly because I was in the National Guard and had a security clearance. Deep down I knew something like that was going to happen eventually. I witnessed some very bad security practices during my six years in the military.


What is your advice for any young engineers who are interested in getting into the security space?

Diversify your skills as much as possible when you are starting out. This has multiple benefits to yourself and to your abilities as an InfoSec (Information Security) professional. It allows you to handle many roles and learn what you truly enjoy doing. You will also gain a general knowledge of multiple technologies which is a tremendous help in securing them. Also, keep in mind that if you are unhappy with your career you should change it. Life is too short to stay miserable.


Who has inspired you in your life and why? 

This may sound very stereotypical, but I have to say my mother. She was a single mom in her young teens. It would have been very easy for her to throw in the towel and give up. Instead she chose to work two jobs and go to college. I may not have had a computer and my mom’s car had a hole in the floor like the Flintstones but I went to a private school. I would not be who I am today without her hard work and determination. 


Visit Rock Stars of Cybersecurity and IEEE Security & Privacy magazine to learn even more about Cybersecurity.


About IEEE Computer Society
IEEE Computer Society is the world’s leading membership organization for professionals in all aspects of modern computing – from cloud to big data, security to mobile, robotics to software defined systems, wearables to IoT. A true community for technology leaders, Computer Society provides resources to keep its members current in technology and moving forward in their professions – publications, a renowned digital library, a vast program of conferences, technical committees, and much more. The Computer Society also serves the profession at large through establishment of standards, professional qualifications and certifications, training and education programs, events on leading-edge technologies, conference publishing, and a wealth of other services and programs focused on advancing the science and art of computing. More information on IEEE Computer Society can be found at





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