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Next-Gen Crypto Method Will Help Secure Mobile Apps

Certicom will demo new Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC)-based mobile ticketing, RFID tag technologies at the RSA conference

The company whose founder was one of the creators of the next-generation encryption algorithm Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) will demonstrate new real-world deployments of the technology next week at the RSA Conference 2008 in San Francisco -- in new secure digital barcode and RFID tag implementations.

Certicom will demonstrate these ECC-based systems at its booth on the RSA Conference show floor. ECC is a streamlined public key encryption algorithm that uses fewer resources than its predecessor, RSA. “ECC gives you the most security per bit of any known public key scheme,” says Certicom’s founder and chief cryptographer Scott Vanstone.

ECC is also deployed in RIM BlackBerry email, Microsoft’s Vista operating system, and digital passports, and it is licensed by the National Security Agency, for instance. ECC uses smaller keys, which saves on computational, bandwidth, and power resources, says Vanstone, who helped create the technology. For 128-bit AES encryption, for example, ECC uses 256 bits for its passkeys, and RSA, 3,072 bits, he says. “And if you go to the 256-bit AES, you need 512 bits in ECC for that level of security, and over 15,000 bits of RSA for the equivalent security. You can see ECC scales linearly.”

BlackBerry devices, for example, have a 521-bit key. “If you wanted to use RSA instead, it would use 15,000 bits to get the same security level [as ECC],” Vanstone says.

Even so, adopting a new cryptographic platform not surprisingly has been a long process. ECC came on the scene in the mid-1980s, and although it’s gained momentum, RSA is still much more prevalent. But Certicom’s demonstrations at RSA of these two new commercial deployments of ECC signal that the algorithm is gaining ground. “ECC is coming into its own. It’s being widely deployed,” Vanstone says.

Certicom will demo ECC-based barcode technology developed by an unnamed client of Certicom’s -- as a solution for the pharmaceutical industry. The RFID tags are for tracking drugs through their distribution channel, and Certicom’s client needed multiple digital signatures to be stored on the tags, so it selected ECC. Vanstone says RSA would have only allowed one signature, while ECC gave them five.

The company also will show off a new mobile e-ticketing application it helped develop for a major airline that consists of a mobile “ticket” -- a bar code -- that can be read and authenticated via the display screen of the passenger’s handheld device.

Meanwhile, Vanstone says encryption adoption overall is no longer just a luxury. “Six years ago, security encryption was a ‘nice to have,’ and today it’s a must-have."

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  • Certicom Corp. (Toronto: CIC)

    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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