How MIT's Fiat Cryptography might make the web more secure

By automating the writing of cryptographic algorithms, Fiat Cryptography can remove errors, produce more secure code, and boost performance.

One of the most common uses of public-key cryptography is securing data on the move. The process used to produce the code that scrambles that data as it travels over the internet has been labor intensive. That's changed, however, with a new system developed by MIT researchers for creating that code.

Called Fiat Cryptography, the system automatically generates—and simultaneously verifies—optimized cryptographic algorithms for all hardware platforms, a process previously done by hand.

In a paper presented in May at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, the researchers laid out the nuts and bolts of their system so anyone can implement it. And the process is already being used by Google to secure communication by its Chrome web browser. "We've showed that people don't have to write this low level cryptographic arithmetic code," explains Adam Chlipala, the associate professor of computer science who led the research team at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory that developed the Fiat Cryptography system.

"We can have one library that can produce all the different special kinds of code that previously had been handcrafted by experts," he continues. "This can lower the cost of development and dramatically increase your assurance of correct and secure code."

When testing their system, the researchers found its code could match the performance of the best handwritten code, only the system's code could be generated much faster. "Automation is an important step forward," says Rolf von Roessing, a partner and CEO at Forfa Consulting, a data security consultancy in Zug, Switzerland, and vice chair of the board of ISACA, a trade organization for information security professionals. "The results are much more reliable and less error-prone than before," he adds.

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