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Finding Security in the Computer Age

International Workshop on Cryptography will be held at WPI August 12-13

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. - More than 120 scientists and industry experts from around the world will come to Worcester, Mass., Aug. 12-13 to attend the Workshop on Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems (CHES), held at one of the nation's top technological universities, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

"CHES is an entirely new type of cryptographic workshop," says co-organizer and WPI professor of electrical and computer engineering Christof Paar, a specialist in the field. "Cryptography is rapidly moving from a somewhat esoteric niche area into an important discipline with applications in virtually all future information technology products such as personal computers, wireless phones or Web-TV. This workshop will provide, for the first time, a forum for scientists and engineers concerned with the realization of cryptography in such products."

Cryptography is the key tool for computer system security.

"Down the road, all kinds of consumer products will have computer-like capabilities," Paar says. "That means you have to add the security functions to an embedded system. This is a major challenge since devices such as palmtop organizers or wireless phones have far less computational capabilities than modern PCs."

With the WPI workshop, cryptography returns to its roots. Modern cryptography began in 1917 when a WPI alumnus, Gilbert S. Vernam (class of 1910), an employee of AT&T, invented a system for automatically encoding and decoding information. However, basic cryptography has been around for ages; smoke signals, for example, are an early form. Paar says new uses for cryptography are limitless.

"The future information superhighway will allow more and more consumer services such as electronic payment systems, medical applications, home shopping and interactive digital TV, to name only a few possibilities," he says. "But much of that information infrastructure will be wireless, and thus vulnerable. It raises growing concerns about the security of the information and communications systems."

Without a doubt, cryptography is rapidly moving into the forefront of technology tools. The goal of cryptography, Paar says, is to encrypt messages and to assure that they are not being altered, thereby controlling access to information so that others cannot tap into it.

"In the future, the consumer should never know or see the systems that ensure that," Paar says. The process involves complex mathematical calculations that encode information to keep it safe from prying eyes.

At the WPI workshop, invited speakers will talk about the latest developments in this ever-widening field. Among the highlights of the presentations is a talk by world-renowned cryptographer Adi Shamir of Israel. He will present the design of a new computer that allows breaking the RSA cryptosystem more efficiently. RSA is the most widely deployed public-key scheme in the world. As a consequence of Shamir's invention, RSA will have to be lengthened in order to provide adequate security.

In addition, Brian Snow of the U.S. National Security Agency will give a speech titled "We Need Assurance." Dale Hopkins of Compaq-Atalla will talk about "Design of Hardware Encryption Systems for e-Commerce Applications." Eberhard von Faber of Germany's Debis IT Security Services will speak on "Security Evaluation Schemes for the Public and Private Market with a Focus on Smart Card Systems." And Colin D. Walter of the United Kingdom's UMIST Computation Department will talk about "An Overview of Montgomery's Multiplication Technique: How to Make It Smaller and Faster."

At the WPI CHES workshop, the latest results from the research community and industry will be presented, including new methods for efficient hardware and high-speed software implementation of cryptographic schemes in embedded systems.

"We hope that the workshop will help to fill the gap between the cryptography research community and the application areas of cryptography," Paar says. "The concentrated presentation of cryptographic developments of high practical relevance is entirely new, and the many participants from U.S., European and Asian companies are a strong indication that CHES is an important forum for modern cryptography."

For more information, contact Paar at 508-831-5061 or 831-5840; e-mail christof@ece.wpi.edu; or visit the CHES Web site at http://ee.wpi.edu/Research/crypt/ches/.