WPI Research Helps Choose Next Federal Encryption Standard

Contact: Arlie Corday, WPI Media & Community Relations

WORCESTER, Mass. - Worcester Polytechnic Institute has produced two of the 24 research papers selected by the National Institute of Standards (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, to determine the next federal encryption standard. The new encryption standard will replace the current encryption algorithm that ensures computer and Internet security.

WPI's papers are titled "How Well Are High-End DSPs Suited for the AES Algorithms?" and "An FPGA Implementation and Performance Evaluation of the AES Block Cipher Candidate Algorithm Finalists." Leading WPI's team of researchers is Christof Paar, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and head of its Cryptography and Information Security Group.

The lead author of the first of these papers is Thomas Wollinger, a German graduate student studying with Paar as a Fulbright scholar. Other WPI students share authorship of the research papers: Jorge Guajardo of Caracas, Venezuela, and Daniel V. Bailey of Wilmington, Del. Eight WPI researchers will attend the conference, including Paar and seven graduate students.

"WPI will take an active role in this public process," Paar said. "The NIST is looking for a new method, or algorithm, for data encryption. They will look at WPI's and other research findings and decide on the new federal encryption standard. The whole cryptography world will be looking at New York in April because it is such a high-profile event in the information-technology community."

The April 13-14 conference in New York City promises to attract the top encryption experts in the world. Initially, 15 submissions were made, which have already been narrowed down to five finalists. The NIST says the final decision will probably be made this summer.

Other than the prestige of winning this competition, there will be no financial gain. Submission requirements state that the winner must make the encryption algorithm available on a royalty-free basis. For the winning selection, the two main factors to be considered are security and speed, Paar said.

"Security is the hardest to judge because these five algorithms all look to be very secure," he said. "They all appear to be unbreakable today, but three years down the road, some smart mathematician may break that code. The NIST will try to pick the one they think has the best chance to withstand future attacks."

The NIST's five finalists are titled: MARS, developed by IBM Corp. of Armonk, N.Y.; RC6TM, developed by RSA Laboratories of Bedford, Mass.; Rijndael, developed by Joan Daemen and Vincent Rijmen of Belgium; Serpent, developed by Ross Anderson, Eli Biham and Lars Knudsen of the United Kingdom, Israel and Norway, respectively; and Twofish, developed by Bruce Schneier, John Kelsey, Doug Whiting, David Wagner, Chris Hall and Nels Ferguson, many of whom are associated with Counterpane Systems of Minneapolis.

WPI, founded in 1865, is renowned for its project-based curriculum. Under the WPI Plan, students integrate classroom studies with research projects conducted on campus and around the world.

More information on WPI's Cryptography and Information Security Group including the two research papers on AES can be found at http://www.ece.wpi.edu/Research/crypt. More information on the AES selection process can be found at http://www.nist.gov/aes.