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Computer Experts in Search of Security to Find Help at WPI Conference

Contact: Arlie Corday WPI Media & Community Relations

WORCESTER, Mass. - In the wireless information age, security is more precious than gold. That's why Worcester Polytechnic Institute is hosting a two-day get-together for the world's top experts in computer security. The second annual Workshop on Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems (CHES 2000) will take place Aug. 17-18 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The event is co-organized by Christof Paar, the head of WPI's Cryptography and Information Security (CRIS) Laboratories. Paar focuses his research on integrating cryptographic capabilities into consumer products, including wireless devices. (Cryptography is the mathematically based tool that protects, or encodes, computer and other information.)

"A special focus of CHES 2000 is the integration of security functions in products such as personal digital assistants, including Palmtop or Springboard types, smart cards and the latest cellular phones," Paar said. "The recent passage of digital signature legislation by the federal government makes strong cryptographic functions in such devices a central requirement."

(A smart card, the size of a conventional credit card, has an electronic microchip embedded in it that stores electronic data and programs, protected by advanced security features. Uses include credit cards and electronic purses.)

Workshop co-organizers Paar and Cetin Koc of Oregon State University note that as more consumer products gain computer-like capabilities, the greater the need for security. The challenge of adding cryptography to hardware devices and embedded systems led to the WPI workshop, as industry experts continue to search for answers.

Last year the first CHES workshop attracted more than 170 computer-security experts, half from outside the United States. The event received extensive coverage from computer-industry publications such as Dr. Dobbs Journal to the mainstream New York Times Online and Wall Street Journal, via the Associated Press.

The event offers security experts the opportunity to learn and discuss real-world system and design issues. One of the highlights of the 1999 conference came from the co-inventor of the code used to protect e-commerce, when Israel's Adi Shamir called the security of the world's leading Web browsers into question.

Shamir will return to CHES 2000 to talk about attacks against smart cards and how to counter them. Smart cards are soon to become a central tool in e-commerce and business-to-business applications.

Two invited presentations at CHES will be made by world-renowned cryptographers. Alfred Menezes from the University of Waterloo, Canada, will talk about integrating security into wireless applications. David Naccache from Gemplus, France, will give a tutorial on recent attacks against smart cards.

Other highlights include discussions on:

  • practical realizations of the Advanced Encryption Standard. AES is the new U.S. encryption standard, currently undergoing selection by the National Institute for Standard and Technology.
  • a new efficient attack against the A5 stream cipher, used in some cellular phone systems.
  • the integration of state-of-the-art encryption algorithms in wireless devices.

For more information, contact Christof Paar at 508-831-5061 or by e-mail at christof@ece.wpi.edu, or Arlie Corday, assistant director of media relations, at 508-831-6085 or by e-mail at acorday@wpi.edu. More on CHES can also be found at http://www.ece.wpi.edu/Research/crypt/ches.

Founded in 1865, WPI enrolls 2,700 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students in science, engineering, management, humanities and arts, and social sciences. Under the WPI Plan, undergraduates complete three projects focusing on their major course of study, the humanities, and the interactions among science, technology and society.