25_Jeffrey Hoffstein

Find an E-Z Answer

This small company (founded by a team of mathematicians) has a big goal: “to create the first substantially new form of cryptography in 20 years.” The technology secures small devices such as cell phones, highway E-ZPass tags, and ExxonMobil’s Speedpass cards.


Jeffrey Hoffstein
Co-VP for research, NTRU Cryptosystems Inc.
Waltham, Massachusetts

Other members of the NTRU Team include:
Joseph Silverman, Ph.D., co-VP of Research and Founder
Jill Pipher, Ph.D., Director of Research and Founder
Daniel Lieman, Ph.D., Founder and Director of Digital Media


What is the big idea?
To create the first substantially new form of cryptography in 20 years. There was a need for encryption to secure communications and technology that are increasingly mobile and becoming smaller and smaller. Our goal was to create an extremely lightweight cryptography that would secure small devices such as cell phones, highway EZPass tags or Mobil SpeedPass cards. Millions of people communicate with each other constantly, never having met in person, there is a need to ensure that the person on the receiving end is who they say they are, that these devices can be identified and trusted as authentic.

What was your creative spark?
The creative spark came after a year and a half of obsessive thought among all four of the eventual founders of NTRU Cryptosystems, all of us professors of mathematics at Brown University. The idea had been born that there had to be a better way, and we obsessed over how to get there. We shot down each others’ ideas one after another. I drove across the country to organize a special year in number theory at Berkeley, thinking about the problem during the long drive. A year later, on a stretch of Route 95 headed to New Jersey for Thanksgiving, the solution struck. Sometimes the spark strikes in unlikely places.

Why is the idea so compelling?
The cryptography that we developed operates at 1/50th of the processor space and 2,000 times faster than traditional, enterprise-level security encryption. It is efficient enough that it does not require a code processor (to aid in computations) to be embedded into a device like a baggage ID tag, NTRU technology can be powered by a scanner alone. It is the only security solution that is small enough and efficient enough to be embedded into devices such as ID tags or smart cards. The security provided by this new innovation in cryptography allows these devices to be authenticated (trust that they are who or what they claim to be), ensures that only authorized users can view or use information on the device, upholds the integrity of the data so that it cannot be altered in transmission and keeps an indisputable record of every transaction.


How or why did the innovation spread?
Current business models require mobile communications and cryptography is one of the key ingredients in mobile security and e-commerce. These confidential transmissions of information require fast, efficient security technology to work with existing devices. NTRU’s technology is the result of extensive research, and has been tried and accepted by the cryptography community. Recent events have further emphasized the need for securing corporate and personal information. This innovation is, and will continue to spread, because secured information is an immediate and primary business need and NTRU is a proven solution.

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