• UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Softball: Gauchos Split Final Road Games at Hawai'i https://t.co/CpEDdmmhVc
    8 hours 50 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Gauchos are live on @ESPN3 ! WATCH >>> https://t.co/io6ZzYs9Hg https://t.co/BEO8wTxv62
    13 hours 56 min ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    Congrats to Leah Foltz for winning the #UCSB Grad Slam! Now she moves onto the UC-wide competition in SF on May 4th! https://t.co/kVqCtOTWb7
    20 hours 50 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Former @UCSB_Baseball LHP Dom Mazza speaks with his hometown paper after throwing a perfecto this week! https://t.co/GPc3B3qL9g
    21 hours 10 min ago
  • ArtsandLectures twitter avatar
    Watch pianist #MurrayPerahia's breathtaking and imaginative performance, tonight at 7PM at UCSB Campbell Hall!… https://t.co/M83EeA6Y53
    23 hours 55 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Softball: Hawai'i Tops UCSB 5-1 in Gauchos' Final Road Series Opener https://t.co/ejf0MWM1g0
    1 day 7 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Gauchos Sweep Past UCI 4-0 https://t.co/WFwbxDV8eA
    1 day 9 hours ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    We're happy to see you back, alumni! Don't miss the great events we have this weekend. #AllGauchoReunion… https://t.co/Sbz4iirr7i
    1 day 13 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Women's Tennis: Cal Poly 0, UC Santa Barb. 4 (Final) No.2 UCSB blanks No.7 Cal Poly in Big West Quarterfinal 4-0 https://t.co/m4kdACQFo5
    1 day 13 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    .@UCSB_Baseball vs. UC Riverside on @ESPN3 is live now! Watch here >>> https://t.co/QJMvNLa0mQ
    1 day 13 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WWP: Defending Big West Champs Defeated by No. 12 LBSU in Another Overtime Match https://t.co/XIO3RJdo9p
    1 day 14 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Top-Seeded UCSB Set to Host Big West Golf Championship at Sandpiper GC https://t.co/SyXPKB2Ur5
    1 day 15 hours ago
  • UCSBLibrary twitter avatar
    RT @ForestSways: CEMA poster preservation for primary source research. #Chicanohertiage @Marikhasmanyan @UCSBLibrary #sca17 https://t.co/M…
    1 day 17 hours ago
  • UCSBLibrary twitter avatar
    @AmldavisAnn We're glad you're interested in using, please contact (805) 893-3062 or @library.ucsb.edu">special@library.ucsb.edu for m… https://t.co/fwAVOMoWyB
    1 day 17 hours ago
  • UCSB_GradPost twitter avatar
    CPT F-1 Visa workshop for international students on May 11 https://t.co/l6xZEndRVl #UCSB #ucsbgradpost
    1 day 18 hours ago

The People Behind the Code

About 400 of the world’s best and brightest in cryptology converged at UC Santa Barbara for the world’s premiere cryptology conference
Thursday, August 21, 2014 - 14:00
Santa Barbara, CA

Martijn Stam was only about 10 years old when he discovered cryptology.

“I borrowed a book from the library about how to become a spy,” recalled Stam, who is now a researcher at the University of Bristol. The book contained simple ways of creating secret codes, such as a rudimentary substitution method in which each letter of the alphabet represents another letter at a fixed place before or after it. Not long after reading that book, he was devising all sorts of encryption keys.

Other people, like Bogdan Warinschi, also from Bristol, were intrigued by questions and problems around encryption, such as how to verify the security of an encryption system. Yet others, like UC Santa Barbara computer scientists Stefano Tessaro and Rachel Lin, dwell in the fascinating intersection of computer science and arithmetics, where the end goal is to derive encryption keys that are mathematically proven impenetrable, but are not too unwieldy for modern computers.

Whatever brought them to cryptology, Stam, Warinschi, Tessaro and Lin joined about 400 or so likeminded researchers from all over the world who came to UCSB for the weeklong CRYPTO 2014 conference, one of three flagship conferences held around the world by the International Association for Cryptological Research (IACR). The conference, the 34th to be held at UCSB, began on Sunday, Aug. 17, and concluded on Thursday, Aug. 21.

For five days, attendees were immersed in talks and presentations on campus, both formal and informal, on a dizzying array of topics related to cryptology: random number generation, cipher models, security and attacks, password protection, new technologies and trends in the digital world, just to name a few.

Though the conference spanned a variety of topics, according to Tessaro, who was on the conference’s program committee, two broad issues were the mainstays of the event. One was the fundamental problem of program obfuscation, or the encryption of a computer program in such a way that people could use it without reverse engineering it or otherwise finding out how it worked.

“There was an interesting result at this conference, in my opinion, one of the coolest results in terms of the talks,” Tessaro said of a demonstration that showed how the use of a highly sensitive microphone near a laptop could yield information about the computations being made inside via the noise signature.

Lin, meanwhile, presented her results in the area of secure computation protocols, research that contributes to one of the long-term goals of cryptology: tools that can allow users to manipulate encrypted data with a versatility comparable to unencrypted data, while still keeping the information private.

“One example is hospitals,” said Lin. “They might want to do some computation together, but their data is not supposed to be revealed by either end.” Banks could also benefit from some collaborative computation, she added, but they might not want to reveal sensitive financial information.

The other overarching topic was how the gap between theory and practice could be bridged in wider applications. From theoretical algorithms that are deemed too inefficient because of the time and power needed to encrypt and decrypt each keystroke of electronic communication, to the vagaries of theory and practice in research that were discussed in UC San Diego cryptographer Mihir Bellare’s Distinguished Lecture, researchers were interested in turning the purely intellectual into the concrete.

Though it can be traced back as far as the ancient Greeks and Romans who used early cipher devices to send secret codes across the battlefield, cryptology didn’t become an extensive established academic research topic until the mid 1970’s. With the rise of computers and the availability of increasingly more complex ciphers, the field grew.

UCSB capitalized on the emerging field, with a push by UCSB computer scientist Richard Kemmerer and electrical and computer engineer Allen Gersho, along with Steve Weinstein from American Express. In 1981 the first CRYPTO conference took place at UCSB. A couple of years later, cryptographer David Chaum, who came to UCSB in 1982, almost singlehandedly started the IACR, which took over the sponsorship of CRYPTO. IACR went on to sponsor what became its two other flagship conferences, EuroCRYPT and AsiaCRYPT.

“Part of the attraction of the CRYPTO conference is that most of the participants stay in the dorms and, as a result, people are always around. Significant discussions take place in the dorm lounges or while walking around campus,” said Kemmerer. The initial conference had about 100 attendees, he said. At the height of the attention around computer security at the turn of the century, attendance peaked at 500, and has since settled to 300 to 400.

“People come here to learn about the most recent state of the art and the research,” said Sasha Boldyreva of IACR, and lead organizer of this year’s conference. “It’s a rapidly developing field.” Because research in the world of computer science happens so fast, conferences like CRYPTO also provide venues for researchers to present their work and hear from colleagues about their research before it is published in journals. This can also be extremely valuable, given the relatively slow place of academic journal publication. Many of this year’s attendees, she said, were students exploring the field. Others are also colleagues who use the conference to network.

As technology develops, the reach of cryptology expands. Particularly in the realm of computers and the online world, virtually any digital communication is prone to hacking, whether it comes from a user, or any node in a network. This leads to rising consideration for effective encryption in areas as diverse as business (think Bitcoin); health, in which there is a push for electronic medical records; and even more futuristic developments, such as self-driving cars and smart homes.

But it wasn’t all seriousness for the CRYPTO attendees. Among the mathematics- and theory-laden sessions led by some of the brightest cryptographers in the world, participants found time to catch up with one another and talk shop. An evening Rump Session — a freewheeling, rapid-fire series of presentations — gave participants just a few minutes to communicate on virtually anything cryptological: educational tools such as ciphers and videogames; insights on a specific problem; updates from representatives of the National Institute of Standards and Technology; and even jokes and songs. Another conference activity brought attendees to the beach. Meeting the people behind the research, IACR President Christian Cachin said, is the primary reason most participants come to the conference.

“In the end, every scientific contribution is authored by people,” said Cachin, “and this is why we are socializing here.”

Contact Info: 

Sonia Fernandez
(805) 893-4765
sonia.fernandez@ucsb.edu

Topics: