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New IT security center at the ETH Zurich

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Zurich, Switzerland, 24 September, 2003—The Zurich Information Security Center (ZISC) is taking shape at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland, in collaboration with an industry consortium currently comprised of Credit Suisse, IBM Research - Zurich, and Sun Microsystems Laboratories. The ZISC initiators aim to forge closer links between fundamental research and practical applications and thus lay the groundwork for the secure systems that are essential to a functioning information society.

Much of business, political and social life has come to depend on sophisticated communication media and reliably functioning IT infrastructure. Viruses, hacker attacks and weak privacy protection repeatedly undermine consumer confidence. Terrorist attacks and the dangers posed by organized crime present a growing threat to corporate and government systems—and by extension to society as a whole. Countermeasures are necessary if the information society is to continue evolving. However, all too often, the building blocks of successful countermeasures—expertise and effective security technologies—remain in short supply.

Broad commitment by industry

Fundamental research, especially in the field of information security, is necessary for finding solutions to these problems. The founders of the ZISC have recognized this. By joining forces with counterparts at Credit Suisse, IBM Research - Zurich and Sun Microsystems Laboratories, ETH Zurich researchers seek to coordinate their activities and establish a platform for intensive dialog on information security issues. The ZISC was inaugurated in early September with a mission to pursue leading-edge fundamental research side by side with applied research into information security, thus establishing the groundwork to develop increasingly effective security technologies. Secure document distribution, novel encryption systems and intrusion detection management are just a few examples of state-of-the-art research underway at the ZISC. Zurich is the ideal location for such a center, being home to a high concentration of banks and insurance companies with a keen interest in secure systems, as well as high-profile information security companies, and the ETH, a leading institution for academic research into information security. The industry partners' commitment extends beyond financing the new center; they seek an intensive exchange of knowledge and experience on the research, education and training fronts.

Training for highly-qualified security engineers

Information security currently suffers from a shortage of qualified specialists. Training is therefore one focus of the new center. The ZISC offers first-class academic education and practical training, underscored by the fact that the ETH Zurich has established a professorship for information security. Master's and postgraduate courses in information security are planned, with a curriculum oriented towards current and future security engineering demands. The ZISC offers a growing program of public events, starting with public colloquia for interested parties from research and industry during the term, and a one-week "ZISC Fall School" featuring prominent lecturers. The first ZISC Fall School began in September with a public talk by internationally renowned US information security expert Whitfield Diffie.

ETH partners of ZISC

ETH Zurich is represented in ZISC through a research center consisting of three groups: Information Security researches and develops methods, techniques, and tools to improve the reliability and security of complex systems. These lead to more trustworthy approaches for modeling, testing, and formally certifying the security of IT systems. The Communication Systems group conducts both applied and interdisciplinary research (for example the development of intrusion-detection management systems or damage models). It deals with computer networks and distributed systems and, in particular, with their security. The Cryptography and Information Security group pursues basic research on the mathematical, information theoretical, and quantum physical levels. This provides the foundation for the development of new cryptographic algorithms, protocols, and systems and for the assessment of existing ones.

Industry partners

Credit Suisse Financial Services is a leading provider of comprehensive financial services in Europe and other selected markets. Under the brands Credit Suisse and Winterthur, it offers investment products, private banking and financial advisory services, including insurance and pension solutions, for private and corporate clients. Credit Suisse Financial Services is a business unit of Credit Suisse Group, which employs around 64,000 staff worldwide and assets under management amounting to CHF 710.2 billion (at the end of the second quarter 2003). Around 2,800 employees develop and operate IT platforms for banking activities in Switzerland. IT security is a major priority for this financial services company. Credit Suisse cooperates with top research and training institutions. Its involvement with the ZISC will aid the timely recognition of trends and risks in this area, as well as the active engagement in know-how transfers.

A considerable proportion of IBM research into IT security is concentrated at IBM Research - Zurich. Research programs cover such topics as cryptographic theory and applied network security as well as privacy, which comes under the remit of the Zurich-based IBM Privacy Research Institute. The IBM Zurch Laboratory has also earned a leading reputation in the area of intrusion detection. In IT security, the IBM Zurich Laboratory has longstanding collaborative ties with the ETH Zurich. For years, students and doctoral candidates have complemented their academic training with work on real-world problems at its site. IBM scientists find the ETH a steady magnet for keeping up with the pulse of academic research. The ZISC makes an ideal nexus where industrial and academic researchers can interact at a mutually enriching level. Most importantly, it strengthens Zurich as a center for further urgently needed developments in IT security.

Since its inception in 1982, a singular vision—The Network Is the Computer—has propelled Sun Microsystems, Inc. its position as a leading provider of industrial-strength hardware, software, and services that make the Net work. Sun started in the academic community and has always fostered a close relationship with researchers in academia, national labs, and nonprofit organizations. Since 1990, Sun Microsystems Laboratories' America and Europe charter has been to transform brilliant ideas into tangible technologies. Here, significant technical interactions with the research community are paramount. The excellent reputation of the ETH and the importance of the location Zurich with its liberal research environment led Sun to expect that this collaboration of researchers will be an investment in the future as well as of value to all ZISC partners. To maintain a functioning society in light of current technological changes, research in the field of IT security is unavoidable. Sun expects that the ZISC will play a considerable role in this arena.

Press contact

Nicole Strachowski
Media Relations
IBM Research - Zurich
Tel +41 44 724 84 45

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