Privacy Issues on the Line: Have the Security Wars Been Won?

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. - Telecommunication has never been perfectly secure, as the Cold War culture of wiretaps and international spying have shown. Yet many of us still take our privacy for granted, even as we become ever more reliant on telephones and the Internet. The security of these transactions has become a source of wide public concern and debate.

To explore those concerns, Susan Landau of Sun Microsystems Laboratories will present a program, "Have the Crypto Wars Been Won?" at Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Thursday, Nov. 9, at 11 a.m. in Fuller Laboratories, room 320, on the WPI Worcester, Mass., campus.

Cryptography, the mathematically based tool that protects, or encodes, computer and other information, is one solution to security issues, Landau says. But because cryptography can so perfectly conceal communications, over the last quarter century the U.S. government has sought to prevent its proliferation. As a result, there have been numerous battles between academics and industry on the one hand, and the U.S. government on the other, over the publication and deployment of strong cryptographic systems. In a major change, this past January the U.S. government removed a number of export restrictions on cryptography.

"In this talk I will put current cryptography policy in the context of decisions made over the last 25 years, and I will discuss the legal background behind the government controls, the purpose of the export regulations, and the subtleties behind the remaining restrictions. I will examine the questions, 'Is the battle over, and have the crypto wars been won?'"

Landau is senior staff engineer at Sun Microsystems Laboratories in Burlington, Mass. Before joining Sun, she was a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts and Wesleyan University, and held visiting positions at Yale, Cornell and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at Berkeley. With co-author Whitfield Diffie, she has written "Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption," which won the 1998 Donald McGannon Communication Policy Research Award. She is also primary author of the 1994 Association for Computing Machinery report, "Codes, Keys and Conflicts: Issues in U.S. Crypto Policy."

The seminar is open to the public and free of charge. Please pre-register by contacting Christof Paar, assistant professor in the WPI Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and head of the Cryptography and Information Security Group (CRIS), by e-mail at christof@ece.wpi.edu. To contact Landau, call 413-259-2018 or e-mail susan.landau@east.sun.com. For more information on the CRIS seminar series, go to the Web site at http://www.ece.WPI.EDU/Research/crypt/seminar/index.html.

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.