Cryptography research may lead to more secure technology

More secure medical records and electronic voting are two of the things that cryptographers at Bristol University are hoping their latest research could lead to.

A team led by Prof Nigel Smart has received €2m (£1.8m) from the European Research Council to investigate a number of areas, including developing a practical way to search encrypted data.

The research will also look at protecting the identity of internet users, creating an automated system for testing security protocols, and ways of encouraging companies to update their technology.

‘When you encrypt an electronic vote, you want the voting authority to add up the votes and give the result of the election but you don’t want them to work out who voted for who,’ Smart told The Engineer.

A system called fully homomorphic encryption, which was first demonstrated by IBM in 2009, secures data in a way that allows calculations to be done on it without revealing individual pieces of information.

However, this process currently uses too much computing power to be practical for applications such as storing personal information on voting or medical records.

Smart said he hoped that the new research would bring a practical version closer, although he admitted it may still take decades to perfect it.

Another aspect of the research is related to breaking old encryptions that are still used in industries such as banking and mobile communications in order to encourage companies to adopt newer, more secure technology.

‘As an example, a bank card must work in any ATM in the world so they cannot change the technology in your bank card until every ATM machine is capable of dealing with the next generation of technology,’ said Smart.

‘There are a bunch of protocols around that are still in use and we want people to stop using them. The easiest way to do that is to break them.’