One day soon, the ubiquitous digital infrastructures that we rely on for communication, commerce, and banking will be protected by a new encryption technology developed in part by a math professor at the University of Cincinnati.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) choose four cutting-edge encryption techniques to foil digital criminals of the future. Among these is CRYSTALS-Kyber, which UC College of Arts and Sciences mathematics professor Jintai Ding helped build. Ding said, “It’s not just for today but for tomorrow.” You don’t want this knowledge out there even 30 or 50 years from now, right?

Ding’s technique is robust enough to withstand scrutiny by quantum computers, which use quantum physics to do calculations quickly. A security system can be compromised more rapidly if it requires more time to do computations.

Ding claimed, “You can decode any system if you give yourself enough time.” Still, “nobody cares” if it takes 10,000 years. CRYSTALS-Kyber was chosen from among three other tools by the institute, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Whether it’s a text message or a financial document, symmetric encryption can be used to keep it safe while being transmitted over the internet. By using a public-key system, the sender and the recipient can generate a secret key that can be used to encrypt and decrypt the data, making it unreadable to anyone who isn’t part of the conversation.

“The ramifications are really far-reaching,” Ding added. “The internet wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have a way to securely encrypt our data. There is no way to keep our conversations private. You can’t do your banking online. There have been no upgrades to the software. Modern cryptography is essential to our entire digital society.

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CRYSTALS-efficiency Kyber’s was highlighted as one of the benefits identified by NIST.

Ding remarked, “It can’t be too sluggish.” You want to avoid delays. You need to have your message read to you at this second. In a similar vein, you don’t want the encryption process to eat up too much of your computer’s memory.

Three algorithms were selected by the government agency to be used in identity verification during online financial transactions. Dilithium, the authenticating “sister” metal of Kyber, has its own name. Ding remarked, “They’re used together, and they’re used individually.”

Star Wars and Star Trek aficionados may recognize some of the names. Both the lightsaber and the USS Enterprise’s warp drive rely on crystals, although dilithium crystals are used for quite different purposes. Ding said that his partners were responsible for the creative monikers. To which I reply, “Encryption is not as easy to understand as ‘Star Wars,'” he joked.

UC’s Center for Cyber Strategy and Policy Chairman Richard Harknett has emphasized that the necessity for better cybersecurity cannot be stressed.

Harknett warned that quantum computing “may threaten the foundations of how we securely share digital data.” Professor Jintai Ding has been at the forefront of this research for many years, and he has dedicated his career to eliminating this danger. Together with his colleagues, he has delivered a solution to NIST that will strengthen international safety.

Dr. Ding is an invaluable asset to our team; his innovative spirit has propelled cryptography to a whole new level. This is where UC discusses the afterlife. That it does, Dr. Ding has demonstrated. As Ding pointed out, the standards imposed by the United States are often the de facto standards elsewhere. Thus, the new cybersecurity may have far-reaching effects.

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Ding arrived at his current study of cryptography by a roundabout road. His area of specialization as a tenured professor of mathematics at UC was quantum algebra. Then, in 2001, he came across a report about MIT researcher Isaac Chuang’s quantum computer.

Really, I couldn’t believe it. “I recognized right away that we need to replace all of the old key code mechanisms safeguarding our data,” he added. I changed careers and started working in cryptography instead. U.C. really helped me out.

Since the new security isn’t as simple to implement as applying a software patch, it is estimated that it will take years to fully roll out. However, its safeguarding effects may endure for decades.

The development of ever-more-effective encryption techniques has not stopped others from attempting to devise novel assaults to break them. Ding declared, “This is a game we’ll keep playing.” Never let your guard down.

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