Cyber-sleuths out of the shadows

Protectors of our secrets honoured in exhibition

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ALL EARS: An operator taps out an intercepted message.

ALL EARS: An operator taps out an intercepted message.


Decoded: 75 years of the Australian Signals Directorate marks service in peace and war.


An unprecedented glimpse at the history, techniques and future of Australia's enigmatic signals intelligence and cyber-defence agency is the focus of a new exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

"DECODED: 75 years of the Australian Signals Directorate" explores the exploits and achievements of ASD, and the critical work of the organisation in collecting intelligence about foreign adversaries, while keeping Australians and our most critical secrets safe.

Formed after WWII to tackle code breaking, ASD has grown and evolved over the decades, being responsible today for foreign signals intelligence, and protective and disruptive cyber-operations.

ASD's mission statement, "Reveal their secrets - protect our own", has inspired its people to master and pioneer new uses of technology to defeat and deter threats to Australia.

The anniversary exhibition explores the history of the organisation from World War II to the present day, including early cipher, codes and encryption; the Cold War; the evolution of the Five Eyes international intelligence partnership; key military operations; technological evolution; the post-9/11 confrontation against terrorism and contemporary cyber-crime challenges.

The exhibition features the early technology used for code-breaking and explores the evolution of cyber-challenges in the ever evolving online age.

The exhibition also offers an interactive game for visitors to work as a team to defeat the cyber-criminals, and a central experience that showcases the never-before heard stories of the diverse and skilled staff who work behind the front line to keep Australia safe.

ASD director-general Rachel Noble said: "It brings all of us great joy to share the history of ASD. So many of our former and current staff have never been able to tell anyone much about the work they have done. The exhibition is a celebration of their amazing work over 75 years and I'm sure for more than 75 years to come."


  • An interactive game where visitors can experience what it's like to step into an ASD cyber security mission, and work as a team to beat cyber-criminals before time runs out.
  • A central space of towering columns with a digital waterfall of real declassified ASD code words that reveals current and former ASD staff sharing their stories of their work and experiences at the agency.
  • Hidden audio moments visitors can trigger to "intercept a signal" and reveal an added layer of storytelling as they move through the exhibition space.
  • Code words visitors can scan and decipher to activate rich detail about the objects and exhibits.
  • An immersive space where visitors step inside a dazzling display of colour and shape symbolising the evolution of radio frequency signals throughout ASD's 75-year history.
  • M1 three-roto ENIGMA cipher machine: the German ENIGMA was one of the most important cryptologic challenges of WWII. "Breaking" the machine was the primary focus of Alan Turing and the staff at Bletchley Park in the UK during the war. Their success allowed the Allies to intercept and read enemy communications, giving them an immeasurable advantage.
  • Typex Mark 23 and rotors: the Allied equivalent of the German ENIGMA machine, developed in Britain in 1934 and used by the allies, including Australia, during the war to securely communicate.
  • Speakeasy: An Australian device developed in the 1990s using voice encryption to secure telephone calls over the public telephone network. It was designed as a desktop device for use with a regular telephone handset. It was superseded by secure mobile telephony in 2002.
  • CRAY X-MP 2.2 "Marsik": Weighing five tonnes, the Cray was Australia's first supercomputer. Acquired by the directorate in 1986, it was the most powerful computer in Australia at the time, with at least 10 times more power than the machine it replaced. The Cray ran at 100MHZ and 400+ Mflops (Mega FLoating-point Operations Per Second) with 32 megabytes of memory, significantly less powerful than a modern smart-phone. It was decommissioned in 1993.

DECODED: 75 years of the Australian Signals Directorate, National Museum of Australia; until July 24.

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