Highlight: NTU Researchers Win Cryptography Competition

Posted 08/03/2019

Thomas Peyrin and Hongjun Wu
Prof. Hongjun Wu (left) and Prof. Thomas Peyrin (right).
Photo credit: M. Fadly.

The winners of CAESAR, a major international cryptography competition co-founded by the US National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), was announced on 20 February 2019. Of the six winning cryptography schemes, three were designed by researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore), led by Associate Professor Hongjun Wu and Associate Professor Thomas Peyrin.

CAESAR, which stands for “Competition for Authenticated Encryption: Security, Applicability, and Robustness,” was a multi-year technical competition originally launched in 2014. Its goal was to identify authenticated encryption schemes superior to the ones currently in use.

Authenticated encryption refers to a cryptographic method that simultaneously provides two distinct forms of protection: “encryption”, which makes messages resistant to eavesdropping, and “authentication”, which guards against unauthorized modifications during message transmission. Many commonly-used cryptographic schemes today specialize in either encryption or authentication. However, schemes that simultaneously combine both functions — authenticated encryption — are increasingly regarded as more secure. In the forthcoming Internet encryption standard known as TLS 1.3, authenticated encryption will be mandatory.

Because the use of authenticated encryption is projected to increase greatly in the years ahead, it is critical to develop schemes that are effective and efficient across a wide range of scenarios. The CAESAR competition solicited authenticated encryption schemes for three distinct categories: (A) efficiency on low-performance computers, such as Internet-connected appliances, (B) efficiency on high-performance computers, such as busy Internet servers, and (C) overall robustness against different forms of hacking or errors in implementation.

Over the five-year course of the CAESAR competition, a total of 57 candidates were submitted from top research teams around the world. After numerous rounds of analysis and filtering, six winners were selected, two for each competition category.

Thomas Peyrin and Hongjun Wu in a discussion
Three of the six winning encryption schemes were devised by the research groups of Prof. Wu and Prof. Peyrin. Photo credit: M. Fadly.

Three of these six winning authenticated encryption schemes originated at NTU. The DEOXYS scheme, designed by a team led by Associate Professor Thomas Peyrin, placed first in category C. The AEGIS-128 and ACORN schemes from the team of Associate Professor Hongjun Wu placed joint-first in category B and second in category A respectively.

“This achievement is a testament to the strength of the cryptographic research community at NTU,” says Associate Professor Wu. “This has been a long and hard challenge, but we believe that the knowledge we gained will help to make the world more secure.”