20 Years of Crypto

Cryptography and Data Security Symposium Honors Two Decades of Innovation

October 15, 2015
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Twenty years ago, a new class appeared in WPI’s catalog: “Cryptography and Data Security.” The student response was even better than former WPI Professor Christof Paar, anticipated. And even though he only had a photocopied version of an about-to-be released textbook to reference, and little crypto background, he thought the topic was pretty cool.

Former WPI Professor Christof Paar
established the university’s first cryptography
class 20 years ago.

But when an out-of-the-blue phone call came from General Dynamics asking him to teach the same class in their offices, he knew he’d hit on something big. From that time on, WPI has championed this innovative field and is now internationally recognized for its cryptography and data security efforts.

On Oct. 19, WPI hosts the 20 Years of Cryptography and Security Research at WPI Symposium with a roster of speakers, an eye to the future of this ever-changing field, and a celebration of WPI’s crypto accomplishments over the past 20 years.

“I thought it was a cool topic, you know… secret codes and that.” – former WPI Professor Christof Paar

Berk Sunar, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, invited experts and industry leaders to discuss all aspects of research and cryptography in the context of its past, present, and future.

“The 20 Years of Cryptography and Security symposium marks an important milestone,” Sunar says. “Cryptography, and more broadly, security, is becoming a mainstream discipline affecting the daily lives of millions of users. WPI has been contributing to this critical field by conducting cutting edge research and by training professionals for the past two decades.”

Prof. Berk Sunar
will discuss the current
state of cybersecurity
and research going on at WPI.

In addition to covering extensive cryptography topics, Sunar and Paar will talk about WPI’s 20-year history with curricula changes and various programs. Sunar will discuss the current state of cybersecurity and research going on at WPI. Twenty years ago, few were thinking how the subject matter would eventually cross into so many disciplines, including electrical and computer engineering, computer science, mathematical science, and even social sciences. Paar, who was the first faculty member to offer a class in the topic, will talk about the early beginnings of cryptography and data security in a university environment.

Other speakers include the following:

Jeffrey Hoffstein, professor of mathematics at Brown University, who will address homomorphic encryption and the challenges and risks involved in using cloud computing to perform extensive computations;

Susan Landau, professor of cybersecurity policy studies at WPI, who will address the long-running crypto wars of the last 20 years;

Andre Weimerskirch, an associate research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, who will talk about the privacy questions and security challenges of vehicle-to-vehicle cybersecurity;

Wajdi Feghali, director of security and algorithms for the Center of Innovation at Intel Corporation, who will discuss his 15 years of crypto at Intel; and

Thomas Eisenbarth, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at WPI, who will discuss cache attacks on public clouds.

WPI’s long history with cybersecurity started with that first class, and has expanded over the years. In 1999, the Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems (CHES) Workshop debuted and has since earned WPI international recognition as an institution with a solid applied security research focus. Sunar and professor of mathematical sciences William Martin arrived at WPI in 2000 and continued to expand course offerings and programs. With such strong academic offerings in cryptography and security research, WPI students are even involved out of the classroom. They are so interested in the topic, there’s a Cyber Security Club and an annual WPI Cyber Defense Competition.

Paar, now the chair for embedded security at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum in Germany and a research professor at UMass Amherst, is especially looking forward to connecting with new and old colleagues at the symposium. He calls his crypto start at WPI a big adventure that really started his career. And despite the bit of panic he felt when big industry showed interest in his new course, the result has been fantastic. “I had no idea that would happen,” he says. “I thought it was a cool topic, you know… secret codes and that.” According to Paar, his course was the first crypto course specifically for engineers.

Landau, who focuses her research at the intersection of policy and technology, is looking forward to her talk about how the same arguments about privacy, security in the public, private, and government sectors can circle around and around. The tenets and conditions might change, but the basic arguments remain.

The continuing expansion and availability of cybersecurity curricula is essential to the growing market needs, says Landau. There’s a real shortage of people educated in cybersecurity and many who are narrowly educated, she says. The broader the scope in cryptography and data security, the more capable you can be in the field.

The event is free, but pre-registration is required.

– BY JULIA QUINN-SZCESUIL