#InfosecurityEurope2022: The Critical Yet Often Invisible Role Cryptography Plays in Our Lives

On the opening day of Infosecurity Europe 2022Professor Keith Martin delivered a keynote speech focusing on the critical yet often invisible role cryptography plays in our everyday lives, enabling us to protect our information and share it securely. The session saw Martin explain how cryptography is used and revealed the many crucial ways we depend on cryptographic technology.

Martin began by asserting a common theme heard across the day from multiple speakers: emphasizing the responsibility we all have regarding cybersecurity and understanding how cryptography works. Martin continued by defining what cryptography actually is, stating that ultimately it’s a series of toolkits, techniques and mechanisms – underpinned by mathematical principles and algorithms – to protect and secure information, assisting with issues such as confidentiality, data integrity, data origin authentication and entity authentication. The use of cryptography in practice was then explored, illuminating its use across several areas, including wi-fi security, secure mobile calls, vehicular entry systems, email security and cryptocurrency.

The controversial side of cryptography was also considered, with Martin saying to the audience that as a technology, it has two “problematic” areas: encryption and anonymity. Encryption presents an issue in that secrets can be kept, and “secrets are controversial.” The complexity of anonymity was illustrated using the ‘encryption dilemma,’ an ethical scenario where anonymity can open up channels for criminal misuse. The rights and wrongs of end-to-end encryption with services like WhatsApp were also discussed.  

The question of “how does cryptography fail?” was then analyzed, stating that while cryptographical tools are good, implementation is much more challenging, with the main problems being: network complexity, as system-to-system communication can complicate matters; key management; and endpoint security, as cryptography can be overcome by going to its endpoint.

Martin then looked ahead to the “cryptographic horizon,” asserting that cryptographic technology will become more ubiquitous and regularly used for privacy, allowing the possibility of demonstrating the identity or validity of something without revealing sensitive details or credentials. Conversely, Martin also stated that a potential future problem lies with the field of quantum computing due to the bourgeoning technology’s capacity to easily solve the mathematical principles underpinning current cryptographic technology.

Martin ended the session by summarizing the key points: that cryptography is ubiquitous, it works, you can’t have both strong encryption and openness and accessibility to systems, it only exists within a system and the future is more cryptography. 

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