Cryptography is the science of using mathematical techniques for securing digital information and communication. Cryptography, Patra says, offers solutions to everyday problems like social media privacy breach, cyber-bullying, banking frauds and online identity theft.
Patra, who heads the Cryptography and Information Security (CrIS) Lab at IISc, says a small country like Israel has the highest density of cryptographers in the world. In India, the density is low, but is improving.
“Cryptography didn’t hold much interest at the under-graduate level. At the research level, we would see some students coming with interest in crypto. But in the last 5-6 years, quite a few crypto researchers have joined Indian academia and pumped in enormous energy to draw students to the field. Many come to IISc and IITs for higher education and do crypto courses,” says Patra. IISc offers both foundational and advanced courses.
For students who wish to pursue research-oriented jobs, Patra says companies such as IBM, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and JP Morgan provide good opportunities in their research labs, with dedicated teams for cryptography and information security. Some of them have research labs in India too. “Pursuing a career in academia is another widely chosen option,” she says.
During IISc Open Day, I encourage my students to create puzzles derived from crypto concepts. And I see high school students get totally fascinated by them. It would be a good idea to give students a small dose of crypto in 11th and 12th standard
Arpita Patra, associate professor, computer science & automation, IISc
A good understanding of math is crucial for anyone interested in this field. Modern cryptographic protocols rely on mathematical principles from areas such as discrete mathematics, linear algebra and coding theory. “Many topics in discrete mathematics such as probability theory, graph theory, number theory, field theory lend their power to cryptography,” she says.
Patra, an alumna of IIT Madras, says India still has a lot of expertise-building to do in this field. She noted that the National Payment Corporation of India had earlier this year launched the blockchain-based Vajra platform that payment companies can use to provide secure transactions. A blockchain is a list of records, called blocks, that are linked using cryptography.
Patra and her students at the CrIS Lab drive research on secure multi-party computation (MPC), a critical topic in cryptography. “MPC has a wide range of practical applications such as in electronic auctions, electronic voting, privacy-preserving machine learning. It allows distrusting parties to collaborate for computation while ensuring the privacy of their individual data,” she says.