In June, she was one of only two undergraduate students to attend the Fourth International Workshop on Cryptography, Robustness, and Provably Secure Schemes for Female Young Researchers (CrossFyre 2014) — a conference designed specifically for women in cryptography — in Bochum, Germany. “It was my first time at an international conference so I was a little nervous to present my research. But it was a very supportive environment,” says Korstanje, originally from Thunder Bay, ON.
The fourth-year honours student presented new results from her summer research project in cryptography titled “Search for Weak Keys in the Dhall-Pal Cipher,” supervised by Mount Allison computer science professor Dr. Liam Keliher.
Her research has focused on the analysis of the Dhall-Pal Cipher (DPC), a symmetric-key cipher introduced in 2010. The DPC was designed to be an efficient alternative to the widely implemented Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) cipher. Korstanje and Keliher’s work focuses on cryptanalysis, designing attacks on current systems to show weaknesses.
“The attacks can show weaknesses in the cipher, how the information is being encrypted. Knowing these allows programmers to alter their work and makes their systems more secure,” explains Korstanje. “We kind of have to think like a hacker to prevent different kinds of attacks and identify weaknesses in different cryptic systems.”
Keliher, who is an expert in cryptography, says “Karen’s work has revealed that many of the keys used by communicating parties lead to significant weaknesses in the DPC that allow encrypted information to be decrypted by an attacker with a minimum amount of computation (hence the term ‘weak keys’). This represents a complete break of the DPC.”
Korstanje and Keliher are now preparing a full paper based on this work for refereed publication.