April 27, 2023

Science prof honoured with fellowship for outstanding contributions to cryptology field

Rei Safavi-Naini is 1st Canadian woman to receive International Association of Cryptologic Research fellowship, of which fewer than 100 have been awarded
Rei Safavi-Naini
Rei Safavi-Naini. Rei Safavi-Naini

Wondering what institutions are at the frontiers of information security and privacy research? Look no further than the University of Calgary, where Dr. Reihaneh “Rei” Safavi-Naini was just inducted into the International Association of Cryptologic Research (IACR)’s fellowship program.

“Fellowship of the IACR is one of the highest honours in my field,” says Safavi-Naini, PhD. “Needless to say, I’m thrilled at this development and to be part of the fellowship alongside worldwide leaders in cryptology.”

Cryptology — the science of secure information and communications — is the foundation on which the security of virtually all modern digital technology is built. From secure email communication to online banking to blockchain, our ability to keep information private all relies on cryptology research and development.

IACR fellowship recognizes outstanding contributors whose work has significantly advanced the science, technology, and practice of cryptology, and who have promoted the free exchange of ideas about cryptology and related fields.

Since the fellowship program began in 2004, only 91 researchers have earned this honour, which involves a rigorous peer nomination and referee process. Safavi-Naini became just the fifth Canadian, and the first Canadian woman, ever to be elevated to the position of IACR Fellow.

Safavi-Naini's IACR fellowship citation reads: “For significant contributions to cryptography and its application to information security, and exemplary service to IACR and the cryptography community.”

These contributions include more than 450 research papers, research training of dozens of next-generation cryptographers and security experts, and leadership and service to the information security community over many years.

Earning her PhD in electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo, Safavi-Naini joined the University of Calgary in 2007 as the iCORE Chair in Information Security. She then co-founded the Institute for Security, Privacy, and Information Assurance (ISPIA) and served as its director until 2019. ISPIA remains a leading research institute in the field, contributing both to foundational and applied research in information security and privacy.

Rei Safavi-Naini (front row, fifth from left) with research colleagues and students

Rei Safavi-Naini (front row, fifth from left) with research colleagues and students.

Rei Safavi-Naini

“The Faculty of Science is delighted to see Dr. Safavi-Naini receive this well-deserved honour,” says Dr. Kristin Baetz, UCalgary's dean of science. “With her ongoing research and her work through ISPIA, she has led worldwide contributions to making our digital experience safer and more secure.”

Safavi-Naini holds a NSERC/TELUS Industrial Research Chair in information security, and was the Alberta Innovates Strategic Chair in Information Security until 2022. Her current research interests include quantum-safe cryptography, distributed ledger and smart contracts, and cloud security.

Quantum-safe cryptography lies at the intersection of the university’s leadership in both cryptography and quantum computing. It considers questions such as how privacy and security of our digital world can be maintained when faced with the exponential increase in the processing power of quantum computers.

For example, the current cryptographic infrastructure of the Internet will collapse if quantum computers can be built at scale. Similarly, many other systems in today’s world that are critically dependent on cryptographic algorithms, including cryptocurrency and blockchain systems, will become insecure.   

While quantum-safe cryptography remains a vast and largely undiscovered frontier, one thing is certain: with experts like Safavi-Naini inspiring a new generation of researchers, the University of Calgary will continue its global leadership in digital security for many years to come.

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