Franck Leprévost, Vice-President of the University of Luxembourg, visited the International School of Software Engineering at SUSU. The University of Luxembourg is in the world’s top 20 young universities in the world. In the interview, he talked about the importance of information security, his work experience, and the development of South Ural State University.
– Why is information security so important today?
– As you know, there’s been a number of serious cyber attacks on digital devices recently, which becomes a common phenomenon these days. This is extremely dangerous in the modern world as countries have to protect classified information and companies such as banks, of which we have plenty in Luxembourg, must provide safe transactions. Probably everybody uses online banking one way or another, which means we need to be sure our payments are safe. Ordinary people, companies, and governments all want their communications to be safe.
– What is the role of cryptography in information security?
– When you build a house, you need some hard stones to build your house from. Cryptography plays the role of such stones for information security. If there is a leak or a weak spot in the walls, then the whole house is under threat. So it is necessary to have safe walls, that is, the strong security. It is necessary, but it is not sufficient. In practice, you have many other ways to attack security systems, something between the stones. The overall security is as strong as the weakest part in the chain.
– Why do we need cryptography if we have those loopholes?
– Well, you can always find a way around, but it depends. If you do not use cryptography, you have a weak system and you have to rely on the security systems that can guarantee you a certain level of safety based on mathematics. My colleagues and specialists like me try to find weaknesses in the system or build a new system that is safer. For these reasons, companies serving public key infrastructures are flourishing today. These infrastructures are aimed at guaranteeing the overall security. I have worked with LuxTrust in Luxembourg, a company that provides online banking safety for major banks and online safety for the government. In this field, it is very easy to disregard some details and put the whole system under a threat.
– What competences are necessary for the information security specialist?
– The general rule is attention to details. Also, you need to have a deep understanding of current cryptosystems, risks, and tendencies in the field, from public key infrastructures to quantum cryptography, which is a new direction of the industry. You need to be aware of what is going on. The other important thing is the technical domain. You need to have some fluency in the digital world, that is absolutely key. And you need to be able to program, to understand algorithms so the mathematical background is useful.
For example, when you go on holiday, you can often see people taking photos, which they then send across the internet. You can hide information into photographs. This is not cryptography yet, but it is also a way to transfer information from A to B in a relatively safe way. You can hide information in pictures, in videos, in music, in texts... This can be used to protect intellectual property right, for example.
When you use cryptosystems, an ordinary person is not able to see the real text but he or she can understand that the information is encrypted. If you use a video with something hidden inside, an ordinary person cannot even understand if there is something more than just a video. Of course, these are just some examples, and you can deal with many other interesting things. In Luxembourg, we are actively engaged in this new trend called fintech or financial technology, where companies such as Bitcoin compete in the market with traditional financial institutions, which is I think very useful. In this new field, the importance of cloud computing, high performance centers, and supercomputers becomes obvious. The good thing is that SUSU has trained great experts in the fields of HPC and supercomputing. I see a bright future for your university, especially in those sectors.
– This is why you wanted to cooperate with SUSU?
– I feel very honored and pleased to be here in this university. Yes, SUSU expertise in cloud computing, our shared interest in information security and trust all contribute to our cooperation. Of course, the fact that SUSU has joined Project 5-100 plays the role as well. I would like to congratulate SUSU on being part of this race.
– How do you evaluate SUSU performance in Project 5-100? What, in your opinion, should the university focus on?
– As you know, Project 5-100 started with 15 universities, with 6 more universities joining the program later. Your university being the participant is a signal of quality. Nowadays we have more than 20,000 universities in the world, and this number will keep rising. Between 2012 and 2025, the number of students will double, so you need to make sure you can provide great infrastructure. Of 20,000 universities, only 7,5-10% produce knowledge, with the rest being the transmitters, which you can prove by looking at the publication index. Being in the top 100 means that you will be among 0,5% best universities in the world, so this is a very tough competition. I believe that having such an ambition is the key to success for many universities, but of course climbing the ladder requires a lot of effort. For instance, our university is among the top 200 worldwide and the 11th among top young universities. In our university, we have developed a great strategy and identified our scientific priorities. We educate our students for the world that does not exist yet. We try to address complex scientific problems of our country, that require solution. We do not try to do everything, but things we believe we can be great at, making our country more competitive in the market. Internationalization is crucial because people from different countries can bring different solutions and experience, and that is why our university is the most international in the world, having people who complement each other. Of course, each university has to design their own approach. Interdisciplinary research is something worth considering. It includes learning foreign languages, so you need some kind of Rosetta Stone. It means that if you come from the field of computer science and you want to work with somebody from the field of life science, even if you both speak Russian, you still don’t speak the same scientific language, so you have to learn it.