Friday January 10th

RWC 2020

I attended my first RWC conference!

  • It actually wasn’t supposed to happen, but I really wanted to attend, and I emailed the organizers. They responded and surprisingly, offered me a very generous travel grant to attend! I overheard later on that if you are a PhD student, they try to support your attendance with a travel grant of some kind, but I’m not sure of the veracity of this. There is also student volunteering; I did see some volunteers who looked like they might be students.
  • Near the end of last semester, I opened my laptop to check my email, read the email, and excitedly ran over to tell my advisors about it. I was stoked, but after having attended, I am so grateful for having attended.
  • It was highly worth it! I left with a special place in my heart for this conference. I met a bunch of people from the crypto research community. This was also by accident. When I arrived, I expected that I wouldn’t really make friends, so I sat in the front row, close to the stage. A really nice lady sat next to me, and we immediately struck up a conversation. It was also chilly near the stage, and she offered me her scarf to stay warm. She introduced me to members of her team, and to my surprise, my advisor told me later on when I was relaying the story of this really nice lady who welcomed me at this conference I was attending for the first time, that she worked in an amazingly awesome research group from a well-known company in industry. He thought very highly of the research they do, which says a lot. So that was unexpected, and it was pretty awesome that she and everyone I met were just so nice to me.
  • Surprisingly, I also met up with a friend I knew from my time in Los Angeles who was living in New York City, working as a security engineer. So I did end up knowing people there, and a bunch of us took the train home together each evening. The whole experience was just really excellent, and it felt like my people. I have all these new friends now, and I left feeling really great about everything, and about the conference.
  • It was interesting to see the work people in academia were doing, and some of the work people in industry are doing, and some of the hybrid teams forming between academia and industry. I think it’s a good thing, as someone had mentioned in a talk, because for privacy and cryptography, it needs to be done right, and implemented correctly in systems in industry. So interactive feedback from both academia and industry makes sense.
  • I also saw two talks which spoke about SageMath, which I did the workshop on last year! So that was exciting to see, too! It seems like I was inadvertently doing things related to what I’m doing now without knowing?
  • I saw proofs, Maths, functional programming-esque syntax (and company presence), a bit of machine learning and privacy/ encryption stuff. So it was perfect! The talks included everything about why SHA-1 is broken, to how Apple finds devices that need to be found while the devices are offline, to ways in which the Chrome Browser is able to alert users that their passwords need to be changed. What I also loved about the conference is that it was also sort of a playground for new ideas; many researchers had indicated that the problems they are working on aren’t trivial, and that they were open to collaboration and advice on solutions from the community, which included both academics and persons in industry.

Security vs Encryption

  • One of the things I liked about the conference is that it also did note what I had been trying to explain when I first got into my PhD but couldn’t articulate (while some security dudes jealously threw rocks at me for having been accepted into a PhD security lab for some reason?); there are delineations between security and encryption (even though there is overlap, too, because we very much need both). In my hackerspace, I had been exposed to a lot of the techniques used in security and pentesting, using WireShark, etc. I have many friends who are security engineers, and I’ve done some training and internships related a bit to that. However, what I’m focusing on for my PhD study is encryption methods, which is more like applied Maths (using things like proofs, probability and other methods), where we can prove that things work. On the security side, my friends tend to like finding vulnerabilities, monitoring networks, etc. On the encryption side, my friends like looking at protocols or devising protocols and methods that would make security better, or systems safer, and proving that they work, drawing from ideas in fields like Applied Maths or DSP (digital signal processing). I am definitely more interested in the latter, especially as it allows me to still interact with communities I really enjoy, like the Number Theory Maths community, etc. One would be hard pressed to find a security engineer typically interested in Lattice theory, but would probably find a fair number of crypotographers who are. I appreciated that the conference did mention this, which made me realize I was exactly where I wanted to be. This was also interesting because I spoke with some of my security friends and they said that “the Maths went over their head” at such conferences (they can run circles around me in checking systems for vulnerabilities and code a lot faster than I ever will and are great engineers!), but it is my job to understand the Maths (or rather, would be, by the end of my PhD), or at least be able to reason and ask questions about it. So please don’t throw rocks at me; direct your anger at reddit or HN instead. :)

In the evenings

  • I would take the train to Brooklyn to get roti and doubles :) It was just a really great conference. It also motivated me to submit a talk, once I get into my topic, because they have a pretty approachable acceptance rate (about 37%). So it’s something to think about.

The Levchin Prize

  • Three persons got the prize this year! One of them was Ralph Merkle, the inventor of Merkle trees. We saw a photo of an undergraduate proposal he submitted, with the teacher’s markings (I’ve included a photo in the photos below)

Here are some photos of my favourite talks…and some NYC photos!

Next year’s conference will take place in Amsterdam

  • Kind of a stretch, but maybe I’ll get to attend again sometime. It was highly worth it for me. A girl can dream.
  • Oh, I also found out I’ll be TA-ing a Compilers course in Haskell this Spring! Super cool!!!

Edit: I got home and a friend from NASA sent me these!!!!

  • I almost cried. So nice of him!! I miss hanging out with him and listening to Jazz and going to JPL lectures on Thursdays, but it’s also to encourage me. He believes in me so much, that it’s heartwarming.

Written on January 10, 2020