Notes from the 2011 Key Management Summit – Dorothy Denning’s keynote

The first talk at the recent 2011 Key Management Summit was a keynote by Dorothy Denning, who gave a retrospective of the past 30 years or so of key management. Denning has been working in the field for longer than many cryptographers have been alive, and she's one of very few people who have actually experienced how the field has changed so dramatically over the past few decades. 

One of the interesting things that Denning mentioned was how 30 years ago it was possible to keep up on every development in the field of cryptography. There weren't that many papers published on cryptography so it was fairly easy to read and understand them all. And there were only a few conferences that included presentations on cryptography, so it was fairly easy to attend them all.

Today, however, there's so much new material being created that it's impossible to keep track of it all. Even in a very  specialized niche like pairing-based cryptography (the technology that Voltage uses in its identity-based encryption, for example), there's so much new material that it's impossible for a single person to read and understand it all. This trend will probably continue, so that cryptographers will probably become very specialized in the future, knowing more and more about less and less.

Denning also had some interesting comments about why there is such a big gap between the interests of commercial cryptographers and academic cryptographers. Part of the gap is apparently due to the fact that it's hard for academics to get funding to work on implementations of technology. Some of the gap is just due to the fact that academics really don't care about practical issues. So we should expect to see academic cryptography advance at a rapid rate in the future, but not expect to see many of its creations actually be useful for much.

Denning also had some good things to say about TriStrata, an encryption technology that John Attala unsuccessfully tried to market back in the dot-com era. This was the first time that I had heard anything positive said about TriStrata, and it was a bit surprising to hear it from Denning. I'm not sure that many commercial cryptograpers would agree with her on this particular point.

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