A TEENAGE computer ace has won £1,000 from GCHQ after decrypting secrets of an ancient mystery.

James Hogge cracked a series of codes to secure first prize in the National Cipher Challenge, sponsored by the Government Communications Headquarters.

The Abingdon School sixth former beat 8,255 competitors to claim the title, having completed eight mind-boggling challenges between September and December.

Encrypted messages sent to participants told the story of ‘Rome’s Lost Legion’, which they raced against the clock to crack.

Successful competitors unravelled the reason for the legion’s disappearance and details of long-lost treasure.

Mr Hogge was named winner last week, within days of gaining an offer to study computer science at Cambridge University.

He said: “The first two challenges were reasonably straightforward but as they progressed, they got more complicated.

“The eighth was really difficult – it took me about seven hours to break it.”

The 18-year-old has entered the annual contest, run by Southampton University’s mathematics department, for the past three years.

In 2016 he won £800 for being runner-up, and last year he took home a silver medal for the same privilege.

People across the UK under the age of 18 are invited to take part, and can participate as individuals – like Mr Hogge – or in teams.

Asked if he hoped to continue his career in code-breaking, he said: “It’s certainly a fascinating area to work in, you could end up at the frontline of national defence.

“For the moment though, I’m thinking of how I will spend the prize money.

“I’ll have to keep some to help with university, but I am also looking forward to a holiday.”

Mr Hogge, who has also helped at Abingdon School’s codebreaking club, will join other winners for a prize-giving ceremony in Milton Keynes in March.

The National Cipher Challenge, which started in 2002, said this year had been ‘undoubtedly the most successful’ to date.