International Science Week: Hyderabad’s C R Rao Institute dishing out cutting edge work in digital data security

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November 08, 2021 3:27 PM

The need for data confidentiality and data integrity is central for without this protective cover, all credit card details, bank transfers and communication across the internet stays unprotected and therefore exposed to the risks of either being tampered with or even stolen.

C R Rao Institute“What we do are the building blocks for new technologies like blockchain,” says Dr Venkataraman. (Photo source: Facebook)

A long time before the pandemic hardwired the need for connect through the cyberspace, the world was already en route to taking all things digital. This has only got further strengthened now and it is par-for-the-course to now expect documents, financial transactions and soon even the health records in the digital medium in India. A linknode running across this transition to the digital medium is the huge imperative on data protection or data security. This is, both when the data is resting within a device or when it is being transmitted across the medium. The need for data confidentiality and data integrity is central for without this protective cover, all credit card details, bank transfers and communication across the internet stays unprotected and therefore exposed to the risks of either being tampered with or even stolen.

This is achieved through strong algorithms called cryptographic algorithms. It is in this area that the C R Rao Advanced Institute of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, housed within the campus of the University of Hyderabad, a central university, is currently engaged in and busy developing new cryptographic algorithms that are relevant for India. This could be for deployment within the closed group of a government establishment or a government system or select private institutions specifically focused on certain type of data.

There are today a handful of organisations, close to a dozen at most and largely governmental, that are working on the mathematical foundations needed to create these algorithms.

“The C R Rao Institute, founded in Hyderabad in 2007 by US-based C R Rao, a Padma Vibushan awardee and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, had a focus early on for looking at topics with future but crucial applications and is therefore today armed with a good set of mathematicians, statisticians and computer scientists,” says Dr Sarma Venkataraman, director of the institute that has Dr C Rangarajan, the economist and former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, as its president and veteran scientist V K Saraswat as its chairman.

Dr Venkataraman says the institute has been working on cryptographic algorithms for the last six years and has so far been able to deliver several algorithms for varied applications across different governmental and non-governmental entities. The 101-year old C R Rao, born in September 1920, and a globally recognised scientist is often referred to in this arena as a doyen of statistics, is incidentally still quite active, stays interested in and is supportive of the work being done out of India.

“What we do are the building blocks for new technologies like blockchain,” says Dr Venkataraman. The focus, he says, is on the ‘indigenous design and development of cutting edge cryptographic algorithms along with its crypt analysis. The areas of interest where research is being pursued include by the institute include quantum computing and communication, post quantum resistant algorithms and neuro-cryptography.”

All of these are based on strong mathematics, statistics and computer science. The end objective here is to help provide the building blocks for the government and the Indian IT sector so that they are able to work on future IT products on cyber security and blockchain-based projects and solutions.

One word of caution, the mention of crypto here has nothing to do with cryptocurrency though cryptocurrencies can be generated using these algorithms. These could be deployed for network-based security or data-based security.

Think of it all as a software that is added as an extra piece of information around the data that needs to be protected – something like a moat around a fort or a protective fence guarding a house. In other words, a protection mechanism for the content that needs to be stored and protected (specialists in this space refer to them as block ciphers) or for that piece of data that has to be sent on the network and also needs to beprotected (or what the specialists would call stream ciphers).

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