· The Science and Industry Museum is waiting to reopen its doors with the launch of a major new exhibition.

· Top Secret: From ciphers to cyber security reveals the rich personal and technological stories that have underpinned secret communications over the course of a century.

· The exhibition features over 100 objects including historical technology, hand-written documents and declassified files from the collections of GCHQ and the Science Museum Group, exhibited together for the first time outside of London.

· Visitors can hear from the individuals carrying out top secret work to defend against terror attacks and serious crime, and discover the challenges of maintaining digital security in the modern age.

· It will be the first exhibition hosted in the Science and Industry Museum’s new Special Exhibitions Gallery, which will originate and host some of the world’s best science exhibitions and experiences in the North.

While it waits for the green light to welcome visitors back, the Science and Industry Museum has lifted the mystery on a new, free exhibition that will launch as soon as its doors reopen.

Top Secret: From ciphers to cyber security will explore communications intelligence and cyber security over the course of 100 years. It has been curated by the Science Museum Group with the help of expert advisors, GCHQ, the UK’s intelligence and cyber agency.

Visitors will uncover the remarkable world of codebreaking, ciphers and secret communications through extraordinary objects, interactive puzzles and first-person interviews. They can explore the challenges of maintaining digital security in the 21st century and the unique technologies used throughout the history of one of the UK’s intelligence agencies. From the First World War to the latest in cyber security, fascinating stories will be revealed via hand-written documents, declassified files and artefacts from the Science Museum Group’s and GCHQ’s historic collections.

Amongst over 100 objects in the exhibition that reveal fascinating stories of communications intelligence and cyber security from the last century are cipher machines used during the Second World War, secure telephones of the type used by British Prime Ministers, and an encryption key used by Her Majesty The Queen.

Portrait of Alan Turing from archive of papers relating to the development of computing at the National Physical Laboratory between the late 1940s and the early 1970s.

The exhibition will also showcase the ingenious work of Alan Turing, whose story is intrinsically tied to Manchester, through items that have been introduced to the exhibition specifically for its run in the city.

These include marketing materials featuring Turing for the Ferranti Mark 1 computer, one of world’s first commercially available digital computers, a delegates list with Turing’s name on it for the inaugural Manchester University Computing Machine Conference in 1951, and correspondence between Turing and Eric Jones, the then-director of GCHQ.

It will also tell the story of Alan Turing and the people at Bletchley Park who broke the German Enigma and Lorenz cipher systems, allowing the British to read some enemy messages and arguably shorten the Second World War.

Sleuths in the making can also take their own tour around the exhibition with a specially designed trail to help uncover the remarkable people and stories in the exhibition, and which also reveals the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills in maintaining national security.

Sally MacDonald, Director of the Science and Industry Museum, said: “We are really looking forward to welcoming visitors safely back through our doors. Preparations to safely reopen are well underway, ensuring we can respond quickly to any further Government announcements. It’s especially exciting to be able to offer such an inspiring new experience to visitors through the Top Secret exhibition, which will bring an additional opportunity to explore ideas that changed and continue to shape the world.

“This exhibition tells the incredibly important story of the hidden work that goes into keeping us safe every day. With the help of GCHQ, our expert advisors on the exhibition, we’ll be revealing some of the previously hidden histories of the UK’s intelligence community. Alan Turing’s story – so important to Manchester’s computing history – is particularly inspiring. There’s a real need for a new generation of code-breakers, and this exhibition really demonstrates the vital role they can play to keep us safe in the digital age.”

The exhibition also explores the work of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which works to defend against cyberattacks. Visitors will be able to see a computer infected with the WannaCry ransomware which, in 2017, affected thousands of people and organisations including the NHS.

Director GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, said: “GCHQ has been at the heart of the nation’s security for over 100 years and to this day it gives the country a strategic edge – helping to protect the country, its people and our way of life.

“We want to give people from across the country a glimpse into our secret history, world-leading innovation and most of all brilliant people who continue to keep the country safe today. So I’m delighted Top Secret has moved to Manchester. It is where we recently opened a city centre office and is already home to hundreds of our staff.

“At GCHQ we believe with the right mix of minds anything is possible. When it’s safe for people to visit, we hope Top Secret intrigues, excites and maybe even inspires the next generation of recruits from the area to consider a career with us.”

The Science and Industry Museum has been closed since 5 November due to Government coronavirus restrictions. Work is underway to prepare for when the Government gives the green light for indoor entertainment venues to reopen. The Top Secret exhibition is fully installed and awaiting the arrival of its first visitors.

Top Secret originally opened at the Science Museum in London to coincide with GCHQ’s centenary in 2019. Its tenure in Manchester is especially significant following the opening of GCHQ’s newest site at the heart of the city. GCHQ is pioneering a new kind of national security from the Heron House offices, mentoring start-ups on tech challenges and working with universities on some of the most pressing national security challenges.

From its Manchester office and other sites across the country, its people use cutting-edge technology, technical ingenuity and world leading partnerships to identify, analyse and disrupt threats in an increasingly complex world. GCHQ works closely with MI5, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), law enforcement, the military and international partners to counter real-world and online threats from nation states, criminal groups, terrorists and individuals.   

It is also significant as the inaugural exhibition to be hosted in the Science and Industry Museum’s new £5m Special Exhibitions Gallery. Designed by award-winning architectural practice Carmody Groarke, working alongside Manchester building contractor HH Smith & Sons, the new gallery has transformed the lower ground floor of the museum’s Grade II listed New Warehouse to reveal grand industrial beauty with stunning modern and sustainable design. Visiting Top Secret will be the first time members of the public have been able to visit the space as a gallery.

Tickets will be made available for Top Secret: From ciphers to cyber security as soon as the museum’s reopening dates are confirmed. The exhibition is free, but booking is essential. To be the first to receive news of the reopening and to book a ticket, sign up to the museum’s mailing list, or visit http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/what-was-on/top-secret for the most up to date information.

Following its run in Manchester, which will end on Tuesday 31 August, Top Secret will tour to the National Science and Media Museum in 2022. The exhibition is supported by principal funder DCMS and principal sponsor Raytheon UK, with media partner The Telegraph.

For more information, please contact communications manager, Alex Urmston, on 07741 103 790/alex.urmston@scienceandindustrymuseum.org.uk

Additional content details

A number of items have been introduced to the exhibition for the first time during its run in Manchester, which focus on Alan Turing and his links to the city. These include:

· Marketing materials for the Ferranti Mark 1 computer, one of the world’s first commercially available digital computers, which feature Alan Turing on the cover.

· A programming manual for the Ferranti Mark 1, open on a page taken from the first version authored by Alan Turing.

· A drum read head from the Ferranti Mark 1.

· Block of static heads from the Ferranti Mark I computer at the University of Manchester.

· A delegates list with Turing’s name on it for the inaugural Manchester University Computing Machine Conference in 1951.

· Correspondence between Turing and Eric Jones, the then-director of GCHQ.

The exhibition includes the story of the encryption technology used by the Krogers who, until their arrest in the 1960s, were part of the most successful Soviet spy ring in Cold War Britain. Visitors will also be able to see the remains of the crushed hard drive alleged to contain top secret information which was given by Edward Snowden to The Guardian in 2013.

Exhibited as part of the Top Secret exhibition for the first time in public is the 5-UCO, one of the first electronic and fully unbreakable cipher machines. It was developed to handle the most secret messages during the Second World War, including sending Bletchley Park’s decrypted Enigma messages to the British military in the field and was in use into the 1950s.

This ultra-secret machine was previously believed to have been destroyed. Visitors to the exhibition will also discover the story of the Lorenz machine. Mistakes made by a German radio operator while using a Lorenz machine enabled workers at Bletchley Park to break the cipher, bringing the Allies one step closer to winning the war.

Secure telephones that were at the cutting-edge of innovation played a crucial role for Britain during the Cold War. The Pickwick telephone was developed to keep transatlantic communication secure between John F Kennedy and Harold Macmillan during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. By the 1980s

Secure telephone systems were portable, and visitors will be able to see Margaret Thatcher’s secure briefcase telephone, which was used to communicate the course of action to the British Ministry of Defence during the Falklands War in 1982.

An interactive puzzle zone within the exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to test their own codebreaking skills and explore first-hand the skills required to succeed in the world of GCHQ.