Simmons' Research Aims to Improve Function for Online Security
July 29, 2014
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Illinois Wesleyan University student Thomas Simmons ’15 (Evergreen
Park, Ill.) is spending his summer studying ways to improve your security.
It’s not physical safety Simmons is concerned with, but how to improve safer computing.
As an Eckley Summer Scholar and Artist, Simmons is studying ways to improve a mathematical function that can be used to
perform cryptography as it relates to computerized encoding of secret messages for
“Cryptography is all around us, and if implemented well we do not even notice it,”
said Simmons, a computer science major. “Every time we secure our communications, use online banking, check our email
or buy something from Amazon we are using cryptography.”
Simmons said he became enamored with cryptography during his first year at Illinois
Wesleyan. After consulting with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Andrew Shallue, his faculty mentor for the Eckley project and an expert on algorithmic
number theory and its applications to cryptography, Simmons decided to base his research
on a function created by French researcher Thomas Icart that maps numbers to points
on a curve.
“This function is used in cryptography to translate a numerical message onto the curve,
where it is then scrambled,” said Shallue. “The goal is to improve the coverage of
the Icart function, so that the image includes a larger proportion of the total number
More coverage will result in improved computer security in terms of protection against
hackers because there are more password possibilities for the attacker to check.
So far, Simmons and Shallue have been able to increase coverage through discovering
patterns in the Icart function, but at the risk of increasing the computation time.
They believe with further research and a better understanding of Icart’s function,
additional improvements can be made.
“I am extremely excited to be an Eckley Scholar,” Simmons said. “Having the opportunity
to dedicate my summer to research a topic I enjoy is an enormous reward, but the Eckley
Scholar distinction is also an honor to carry.”
The Eckley Summer Scholars and Artists endowment supports summer research and creative
activity for several students each year, enabling them to stay on campus over the
summer under the direction of faculty mentors. The program was established as one
aspect of a major gift to the University by President Emeritus Robert S. Eckley, his
wife Nell and the Eckley Family Foundation, shortly before he passed away in 2012.