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Military-level information security for general use

Anand Parthasarathy

Indian engineers have delivered a robust communication system "Now the civilian sector in India can not only access levels of security hitherto unavailable but also manage its own `keys' using a smart card"

BANGALORE: Military communication systems the world over boast of levels of secrecy and information security unavailable to civilians. Now, for the first time, Indian engineers have delivered a robust and secure communication system for general use, harnessing the same "uncrackable" codes and ciphers that defence departments deploy during war.

The product is the work of a team of mathematicians, statisticians and computer engineers at a low-profile institution based in Chennai — the Society for Electronic Transactions and Security (www.sets.org.in) , brainchild of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Working since 2002, with a grant from the office of the Principal Scientific Adviser, the SETS team has created the Secrecy System Version 3 (SS-v3) using the most secure algorithm currently available and being deployed by military users to send top secret traffic: the Advanced Encryption Standard or AES 128.

The number 128 represents the number of digits in each block of the cipher used to code the information — and as of today, it has not been cracked by man or machine. The SETS system throws in another current secrecy standard known as HMAC-SHA-256, short for Hash-based Message Authentification Code-Secure Hash Algorithm.

In a telephonic briefing for The Hindu , team leader G. Aswin said the communication security systems currently used by banks and financial institutions worldwide were based on either `public key' encryption (where one of the two keys to unlock the code is made public) or one where the `private key' — a shared secret between the sender and the receiver — was administered by the solution suppliers abroad.

Now the civilian sector in India could not only access levels of security hitherto unavailable but also manage its own `keys' using a smart card. Moreover, the communication system could transfer data at a zippy 2 megabits per second or more — it is fast enough for secure multimedia and videoconference traffic. The technology developed at SETS was transferred to the ECIL by Mr. Kalam at a function at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan last week. This is the first Indian product to flow from a public-private partnership in the area of Information Security and its compelling attraction for a Net-based industry, increasingly in need of secure communication, is expected to find takers beyond the `desi' market.

The other members of the Chennai-based design team are Kapali Viswanathan, N. Vijayarangan, K. Jayasri, A. Suganya, R. Vijayasarathy and R. Harish Kumar, with Praveen Gauravaram of Queensland University of Technology, Australia.

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