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In Belgium, an Encryption Powerhouse Rises


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Professor and privacty advocate Bart Preneel heads up the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography group of Belgium's University of Leuven.

The Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography group of Belgium's University of Leuven, led by professor and privacy proponent Bart Preneel, has become a stage where privacy and surveillance advocates are fighting over digital encryption.

Credit: Sander de Wilde/The Wall Street Journal

Belgium's University of Leuven has become a stage where privacy and surveillance advocates are fighting over digital encryption, which is researched at the school's prestigious Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography group (COSIC).

The center is led by professor and privacy proponent Bart Preneel, who has drawn criticism from those who think his work at Leuven complicates law enforcement and government efforts to foil or trace criminals and terrorists.

"Academics have to be aware of the need to act responsibly when their discoveries can lead to harm," argues former GCHQ director David Omand. Preneel counters he is not working against government agencies, but he emphasizes "citizens need to be able to do some things in secret legitimately."

COSIC's researchers develop new encryption for corporate clients or assess their in-house antihacking technology. Preneel reports Intel is one client, partly underwriting COSIC's work in protecting different apps on a smartphone so they cannot steal data from each other, or siphon off data from the device's user.

A team from Preneel's lab is testing encryption protecting chip-enabled passports, SIM cards, and other kinds of digital identification. Another group is hacking medical devices to boost their security.

The highly popular Advanced Encryption Standard also has roots in Leuven, created by two university graduates in 2001.

From The Wall Street Journal
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