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The designers of this site attended the first annual Cryptography Hardware and Embedded Systems (CHES) conference that took place at WPI on August 11th and 12th, 1999. 27 papers were presented (or 42 submitted) and three invited speakers talked to the crowd of about 200 people, over half of which was international. Now, if you're like us and relatively new to cryptography, you probably don't know what Cryptography Hardware and Embedded Systems is all about.
The CHES (pronounced 'chess') conference was put on by the electrical and computer engineering department at WPI, and drew mostly engineers and computer scientists, not mathematicians. This conference was about hardware. The attendees did not create new cryptographic functions; they implemented current ones into onboard logic of small devices. A hardware implementation of cryptography algorithms is much faster than software, and it also allows cryptography to be used by devices other than full size computers.
Cryptography is already embedded into many systems that you use today without even knowing it. Small examples include TV descramblers, smartcards for ATMs, and mobile phones. The armed services makes use of cryptography embedded systems to a great deal for communications. The invited speaker from the NSA, Brian Snow, focused his talk on what the private CHES industry must do to get contracts to provide the armed services cryptographic communications.
The NSA is responsible for advising most of the government in which cryptography systems to use and who to buy them from. For the most part, the NSA has designed and built their own systems for government uses because commercial cryptography could not meet the high standards set forth. Snow stressed in his talk that the attendees must adequately test their systems under all types of attacks, both from malicious and environmental concerns, before the NSA could consider recommending the systems to their 'customers' [ie: the Army, Navy, Air Force..etc…]. Snow's speech often times sounded more like a lecture from a parent displeased with what the children were doing, and many in the audience did not see things from the same angle. From the commercial point of view, Snow is asking for a great deal more time and money to be spent in the design stagers of a product. More R&D delays a product from the market and the resulting profits. And if all the jumping through hoops is completed, there's no gurentee that the NSA will recommend a private industry system over their own in house ones. To many, the government cryptography market appears an un-tappable market because of the additional effort it would take to met the NSA standards. Snow pointed out, though, that while a cryptographic hardware system crash might ruin a few online transactions an ecommerce application, it can cost lives in the Armed services.
Following Snow's opening address to the conference, the tone settled and the papers presented outlined the technical details of various implementations of cryptographic systems. The conference was split into several different sections. The first day included talks about cryptoanalytical hardware, hardware architectures, smart cards, and arithmetic algorithms in hardware systems. The second day of the conference included talks about true random number generators, different attack methods on systems, and implementations of elliptic curve algorithms. The high-'light' (literally) of the conference was probably the much esteemed TWINKLE device...