Susan Landau, Sun Microsystems Laboratories
Cryptology: Technology and Policy
Physics Division Colloquium - 8 Dec. 2000

Telecommunication has never been perfectly secure, as the Cold War culture of wiretaps and international spying taught us. Yet many of us still take our privacy for granted, even as we become ever more reliant on telephones and computer networks. The security of these transactions has become a source of wide public concern and debate, and the subject of much research over the last quarter century.

In this talk I will briefly present the various types of cryptosystems that have been developed to protect electronic communications, including the public-key and private-key systems. Then I will discuss the policy debates that have ensued as the US government has proposed ways to prevent the proliferation of unbreakable cryptography (and thus perfectly concealable communications).

What would be the cost to society if criminals concealed their communications using codes the government cannot decipher? How will U.S. economic competitiveness be affected by export controls on cryptographic systems? How important is protecting society from abuses by criminals and terrorists versus protecting personal privacy from all threats -- including potential eavesdropping by the government? Cryptography is a dual-edged sword; I'll put the current policy on cryptography in the context of decisions over the last quarter century.

ANL Physics Division Colloquium Schedule