Mathematics experts promise encryption boost

With the government's snooping bill looming, experts devise ways of making Net communications more secure

A technique that promises to make advanced encryption more secure has been developed by mathematics experts at France's National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA).

Robert Harley, a graduate student at INRIA and one of the researchers behind the new technique, says the new method will make "elliptic curve" cryptography less vulnerable to attack. Elliptic curve cryptography is a mathematical method for generating keys that are commonly used to secure email messages and Internet connections. Elliptic curve cryptography is more difficult to solve than older techniques but it takes time to calculate the curves in the first place.

Harley has created an algorithm that makes it much easier to generate individual elliptic curves, which can be used to generate unique user keys for securing individual messages.

"Most people who use elliptic curve cryptography stick with one curve. Within academic circles this is seen as slightly dangerous. It like putting all your eggs in one basket," says Harley.

Harley's algorithm, which is based on theoretical work of Japanese mathematician Takakazu Satoh of Saitama University, makes it possible to calculate a curve with far less computing power than is conventionally required. The time taken for a common calculation is reduced from days to a matter of hours.

The new technique is likely to have an impact on commercial applications cryptography. Harley says that US software company Encrsoft is already hoping to incorporate his technique into its encrypted instant messaging application Top Secret Messenger. Entrust has also expressed an interested in the technique. The approach may also be used to make SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption, which is used to send transactions and communications over HTTP Internet connections more secure. Researchers at Sun and Standford University are developing SSL solutions based on Harley's research.

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