Cryptography: Fact, fiction and Da Vinci (20 June 2006)

Cryptography has never been as much in the news as in recent years. Books and films on Enigma and Bletchley -some more accurate than others -reached a large audience. But this has been dwarfed by the Da Vinci phenomenon. Incidentally, the book’s heroine, Sophie Neveu, studied cryptography at Royal Holloway – presumably under Professor Fred Piper, though this is not in the book.

At an every-day level, the security of Internet shopping, banking, and cash machines is based, at least in part, on cryptography. In fact this applies to the whole edifice of domestic and international money transmission, banking, finance and trade. At stake is not only the privacy and authenticity of transactions but-and this is at least as important – also the identity of the transacting parties.

How do you really know who it is at the other end of an Internet transaction? And then there is cryptography and the State! Cryptography is in the front-line in the battle against terrorism. But how do we balance the need of governments to be able to read our communications and our rights, perhaps needs, to keep them confidential by using encryption? So what is the state of cryptography? Can the good guys always stay one step ahead of the bad guys? Why is there still so much fraud and identity theft? Is the availability of almost limitless computing power to geeks, crooks and spooks alike a threat? And what about quantum computing? And quantum cryptography? Is the one a threat and the other a solution? And, crucially, what was it like to teach Sophie Neveu?. And where is the Holy Grail? Professor Fred Piper will speak on all, some or none of these issues. But be assured -whatever he says, it will be interesting and it will be ‘in clear’.

Professor Fed Piper

Prof Fred Piper, seen recently on TV in connection with the Da Vinci Code, is a man of letters, not least those after his name – BSc PhD(London) CEng CMath FIEE ARCS DIC and FIMA. He is widely acknowledged as a leading global expert in the field of security and cryptography. He has been a Professor of Mathematics at Royal Holloway, University of London since 1975. In 1985 he formed a company, Codes & Ciphers Ltd., which offers consultancy advice in all aspects of information security and which has advised over 50 companies including a number of financial institutions and major industrial companies in the UK, Europe and USA. He has lectured world-wide on information security and has published numerous papers and books. He has served on a number of DTI groups and is currently a member of the Foresight Crime Prevention Panel: IT, Electronics and Communications Task Force, a member of the DTI Management of Information for Fraud Control, Security and Privacy Link Programme, and a member of the Scientific Council of the Smith Institute. He is a member of the Board of Trustees for Bletchley Park.

In 2002 he was awarded an IMA gold medal for “services to mathematics” and received an honorary CISSP for “leadership in Information Security”. In 2003 he received an honorary CISM for “globally recognised leadership” and “contribution to the Information Security Profession”. He has spoken on radio, including in the Melvyn Bragg ‘In our Time’ programme, and appeared on TV.