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Stories from around the region that engage and inspire.A special thank you to the City of Flagstaff BBB grant program and Flagstaff Cultural Partners for awarding KNAU $18,400 to help fund KNAU's Science and Technology Desk.

$6.3 Million Grant Puts NAU At The Forefront Of Cyber Security


Data encryption is a hidden part of our everyday life. Every time any sort of information is sent electronically, that message is encrypted and decrypted to prevent it from being intercepted. The computer code that does that encryption is approaching 40 years old, and increasingly vulnerable to hacking. 

Recently, Northern Arizona University was made a part of the effort to update its encryption system with a three-year grant worth more than six million dollars. KNAU’s Zac Ziegler spoke with Bertrand Cambou, the professor who’s heading the research about how encryption works, and how his research will change that.

Zac Ziegler: “Let’s start with the basics. What is encryption and how does it work?

Betrand Cambou: “Well,encryption is essentially hiding the message that you want to send and the act of taking a document or whatever information and you turn it into something that cannot be read unless you have an agreement between the two on how to do that.”

ZZ: “What are some examples of places that we see encryption every day?”

BC: “You are going to find encryptions on most of your daily life. For example, your banking card. The account has what's called a key that is used to encrypt a message as they communicate with the bank. Every financial transaction you encrypt and decrypt, and the bank knows that this is your card.

You're telephone, every time you access the network there is an encrypting device that’s called a SIM card, and the SIM card is actually inserted into your phone and doing the encryptions to authenticate who you are?”


ZZ: “What is the direction of society that we need new encryption that is totally so hard to crack?”


BC: “The society has been moving to a cyber society on everything we do, and as a result we have the power grid, our medical facilities, everything is now connected. And as you have that move, you have the move of organized hacking. Organizations that are going to be replacing the kid in the high school that was playing to crack the password of the bank. They’re now replaced by 10,000 people going to work from nine-to-five targeting for multiple years a prey, a victim.”

ZZ: “The federal government wants to develop encryption that is much easier for a computer to process so the codes can be switched within seconds or less. What is NAU’s part in this?”

BC: “What we're trying to do is to use nano components that you have in your electronics as the way to authenticate you without having to put additional burden. The government is funding NAU not to develop the code, but you use the code into combining it with the nano technologies in the environment we have.”

ZZ: “You use the term nanotechnology. We’re talking about components on the scale of a millionth of a centimeter. How small are we talking here for the final version?”

BC: “The idea would be that the size will be so small that is going to be embedded into your electronic at no additional cost, and we want the security that is not going to be putting any new burden to the users. We want to be able to essentially have that technology to be embedded in your system in a non-intrusive way.”

ZZ: “Professor Campbell thank you very much for joining me today."


BC: "Thank you."

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