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Embedded systems

Camille Liewig - 5/10/2009

A dedicated cryptography system for embedded systems

Two researchers, Pierrick Gaudry and Eric Schost, have just put the finishing touches to a new, faster, more reliable cryptosystem. Called Surf 1271, it is based on the use of hyper-elliptical curves and seems particularly well-suited to embedded systems.

Julius Caesar was already using cryptography, the art of secret communication. Nowadays, the discipline lies at the heart of our interchanges, especially over the internet. Online account management, purchases, financial transactions, and so on – online services need to provide a maximum level of security and confidentiality to users. Pierrick Gaudry, a CNRS [French National Centre for Scientific Research] researcher at Inria Nancy, is working on designing and improving cryptographic systems. In collaboration with Eric Schost from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, he has just developed a new, faster and more reliable cryptography system, namely Surf 1271.

Cryptography has been dominated by the RSA encryption system for 40 years. A system that has proved its worth, but which is now showing its limits. To combat “hacking”, encryption keys are becoming increasingly complex, requiring considerable computing power. However, smart cards, key cards, Navigo passes [for Paris regional public transport] and embedded systems in general do not have the capacity to support this computational workload. The only solution is to simplify the keys and thereby streamline the calculations!

This feat has just been achieved by Pierrick Gaudry and Eric Schost with Surf 1271, a cryptographic system based on hyper-elliptical curves. The very principle of this type of curve is to divide the size of the encryption key by ten. “At an equal security level, this key contains 256 characters compared to 2,048 with RSA,” emphasises Pierrick Gaudry. “Surf 1271 is consequently very suitable for application in embedded systems that have low storage and computational capacities.” In the coming months, our two researchers will be publishing cryptographic software using Surf 1271’s principles. “This software will be the system’s shop window,” explains Pierrick Gaudry. “It is a first step towards standardisation, which is very much needed to promote the technology within industry.”

Keywords: Team CACAO Pierrick Gaudry Sharcnet Cryptography Eric Schost Nancy Surf 1271 Embedded systems