Designing an unbreakable code

SOSCIP researcher using supercomputers to design secure cryptosystems

Project Title: Parallel Algorithms for Autocorrelation Problems (PAAP)
Researcher: Dr. Ilias Kotsireas, Wilfrid Laurier University
Industry partners: Maplesoft and IBM
Supported by: SOSCIP, Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, IBM


More than 2.5 billion gigabytes of digital data is generated every day, according to a report by IBM in 2012[i]. This includes emails, text messages, voice and video data and other types of digital information. Keeping this information secure not only costs companies and governments billions every year, it also relies on talent, determination and supercomputers.

That’s the problem Dr. Ilias Kotsireas, a professor with the Department of Physics and Computer Science, Wilfrid Laurier University, is working on for his SOSCIP project. SOSCIP is a research and development consortium that pairs academic and industry researchers with advanced computing tools to fuel Canadian innovation

“Using Canada’s fastest computer will allow Dr. Kotsireas to make important progress in the area of combinatorial designs,” said Wilfrid Laurier University’s Vice-President: Research Dr. Robert Gordon, “We are delighted to support partnerships such as SOSCIP to support his innovative work.”

Dr. Kotsireas, the director of the Computer Algebra Research Group (CARGO Lab) at Laurier, is using high performance computing (HPC) to solve extremely difficult computational problems. His project involves searching for particular sequences that have ideal characteristics with respect to their autocorrelation values. Autocorrelation is a measure of how similar a sequence is with itself. In cases where such sequences of specific lengths are not known to exist via known theoretical construction methods, the only way to find them is to employ computational algorithms.

His team is using the Blue Gene/Q Platform (BGQ) at SOSCIP, which is designed to handle large-scale applications that require massive parallel processing power. It is Canada’s fastest supercomputer, using 1,024 cores or more at a time, equivalent to the processing speed of about 200 desktop computers. On the BGQ, the algorithms have exhibited a 2000-fold speedup, which considerably increases the speed and efficiency of Dr. Kotsireas’ research.  He has developed highly parallelized code, and was recently able to use all BGQ 65,536 cores in a single run.

“You have to think of the adversary as someone with infinite resources and infinite time.”

“People are interested in these sequences because their existence has a lot of consequences and implications for security.” “Metaprogramming is a reliable technique to produce millions of bug-free lines of C code,” said Dr. Kotsireas, adding that these problems will be useful in designing cryptographic protocols. “The adversary, in order to break the secure protocol, would have to perform exhaustive searches, which could even take automated code breakers forever.”

Underestimation, however, can lead to a weak protocol.

“You have to think of the adversary as someone with infinite resources and infinite time.”

Indeed, he admits the security of cryptosystems has become a very active and competitive area of research.

“It’s an exciting field to be in. I would encourage students to pursue it – there are many exciting new developments.”

Dr. Kotsireas’ fourth year undergraduate student who works with him in the CARGO Lab would agree.

“The project has taught me about the limitations of modern computers when facing computationally intense problems, for instance, combinatorial problems such as searching and optimization,” explained Ian Li.

Mr. Li said the SOSCIP research project has provided him with the experience and motivation to seek graduate studies to learn more about such problems, related reasoning and heuristic techniques that can be used to solve problems.

Dr. Kotsireas’ interest in the field was similarly nurtured by two mentors, including internationally renowned Professor Jennifer Seberry, the so-called Mother of Cryptology in Australia and the Grandmother of Computer Security from the University of Wollongong, Australia, as well as Professor Dragomir Djokovic, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus from the University of Waterloo, who is his main collaborator in the SOSCIP project.

With this work, Dr. Kotsireas is set to solidify his own position as a recognized expert in the field, in the area of combinatorial designs.

For more information about the CARGO Lab, please refer to


SOSCIP is a research and development consortium that pairs academic and industry researchers with advanced computing tools to fuel Canadian innovation.  SOSCIP supports projects that have the potential to have a considerable impact on the lives of Canadians, within areas such as water, cities, health and cybersecurity. The consortium includes 15 of Ontario’s most research-intensive academic institutions as well as Ontario Centres of Excellence and the IBM Canada Research and Development Centre.