Designing encryption technology to secure the future

Faculty of Engineering
Research
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Carlisle Adams
New technologies are needed to keep encryption efficient and secure in the face of cyber threats in a new age of quantum computing.

Over the past few years, data breaches have become more common. Attackers are getting smarter. Technology is becoming more powerful. Security has become a top concern for many. 

Solutions that protect users and user data need to evolve at the same speed. 

Cryptography is the branch of cybersecurity that uses mathematics to create the encryption systems that protect personal information, documents, and communications in online settings. Encryption protects users from cyber attackers who want to steal their personal information or identity. 

“People need to keep unintended parties from learning and using their personal information,” says Professor Carlisle Adams of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Adams’ current research is centred on designing tools that can help people achieve this.

Empowering users to take data privacy into their own hands

Cryptography allows people to maximize the security of their online data. One form of encryption uses a technique known as identify-based encryption (IBE) to take cryptography a step further.  

A public key certificate is a data structure that allows one person to determine the correct public key for another person, allowing data to be encrypted and decrypted safely. 

With IBE, someone’s email address can be used as their public key, making the whole process faster and easier. “It’s a really nice idea, except that in IBE, there is typically a central authority that creates everyone’s private key; thus, this central authority must be totally trusted because it can decrypt everyone’s data,” Professor Adams explains. “I'm working on an enhancement to IBE in which the central authority does not learn private keys, so users get much more privacy.” 

The dawn of quantum technology 

And if personal data security wasn’t enough of an issue, there are big picture issues to address too. 

Quantum computing is a hot topic right now. A key future technology, ultra-powerful quantum computers will have unimaginable speed to take in immense amounts of complex information, doing in seconds what traditional supercomputers currently do in years. 

Unfortunately, one of the outcomes of this new technology is that some important cryptographic algorithms currently used in regular computers will be broken by these super-fast computers, putting online users at risk. 

Researchers like Carlisle Adams are at the forefront of advances in cryptography and post-quantum cryptography, already thinking about ways to keep people safe even when attackers have access to quantum computers. “There is a lot of exciting research being done in designing and evaluating these post-quantum algorithms so that we have a hope of security in the future.” 

Increasingly, various industries and sectors are seeking employees who understand how to prevent personal information breaches and optimize cyber security technology. The Faculty of Engineering offers a microprogram in cyber security that can be taken on its own or added to your undergraduate or graduate degree. 

About Carlisle Adams 

Carlisle Adams is a professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Ottawa. Prior to his academic appointment in 2003, he worked for 13 years in industry (Nortel, Entrust) in the design and standardization of several cryptographic and security technologies for the Internet. His research interests and technical contributions span applied cryptography, security, and privacy. Professor Adams is co-author of Understanding PKI:  Concepts, Standards, and Deployment Considerations, Second Edition (Addison-Wesley, 2003) and author of Introduction to Privacy Enhancing Technologies:  A Classification-Based Approach to Understanding PETs (Springer, 2021).