Who owns data? Who can read which data? At the center of some of the most vexing problems confronting the internet are a set of encryption algorithms that hold everything together. The routines are mathematically complex and often difficult for even the experts to understand, but stopping fraud, protecting privacy and ensuring accuracy depend implicitly on everyone getting those algorithms right.
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Their role in governing cyberspace attracts plenty of researchers who are trying to improve them while also attempting to reveal their weaknesses by breaking them. Some of the newest approaches offer new opportunities to protect everyone with more sophisticated protocols and more robust algorithms. The newest tools bundle better privacy and more agile applications that will do a better job withstanding attacks, including those that might be launched using the largely hypothetical quantum computers.
The burgeoning world of cryptocurrencies is also creating opportunities in securing not just money and transactions but all stages of digital workflow. The exploration and innovation devoted to creating blockchains for immortalizing all interactions are some of the most creative and intense areas of computer science today.
The good news is that for all this exciting innovation, the core foundations remain remarkably stable, strong and secure — as long as care is taken implementing them. The standards last decades making it possible for enterprises to rely upon them without recoding or redesigning protocols very often.
The standard algorithms like the Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA) and the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) were designed with careful public competitions managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the result has been remarkably resistant to endless public attacks. While some of these have grown a bit weak thanks to the progress of technology — SHA1, for instance, should be deprecated and replaced with SHA256 — there are no catastrophic collapses in security to report.