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Kurt Rohloff on 9/11 Inspiring a Path to Privacy, Encryption and Military Intelligence

Kurt Rohloff on 9/11 Inspiring a Path to Privacy, Encryption and Military Intelligence

Dec 14, 2020

Follow the White Rabbit podcastStart Listening

Kurt Rohloff was at engineering grad school during the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 and quickly decided he wanted to play his "small part" in helping national security. It was not long before Kurt was working on projects to support the mission of DARPA, (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and leading teams in the first implementation of a new concept in encryption.

In 2009, Kurt was around during the discovery of the theoretical concept of "homomorphic encryption." This type of encryption allows calculations to be performed on encrypted data without decrypting it, all the while producing results as if the work had been done on unencrypted data. This way of sharing sensitive information while protecting privacy has real world use cases ranging from banks collaborating on money-laundering investigations to militaries sharing intelligence when they operate as allies in a war theater, Kurt said on the latest episode of the Follow the White Rabbit podcast.

"There was internal motivation related to privacy as a human right and freedom of speech. Sometimes it's just the way life is. You just pop into amazing projects and it just changes your life," Kurt said of how he "drank the kool aid" and dedicated his work to implementing homomorphic encryption.

This experience led Kurt to co-found Duality Technologies, which provides privacy-enhancing technologies. The company develops and integrates encrypted computing technologies to enable privacy-preserving analytics in regulated industries such as healthcare, finance and government. Kurt has not forgotten his encryption roots at DARPA, which creates breakthrough technologies and capabilities for national security. Earlier this year, Dual Technologies announced it contracted with DARPA to develop a privacy-preserving Machine Learning capability that can be applied to researching genomic susceptibility to severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Kurt has helped develop commercial uses for homomorphic encryption and noted how his open-source work has also spurred national security efforts in the field. "We happen to be very very firm believers in open source and the need for open source cryptography for trust and for transparency" he said. "Privacy and crypto and cybersecurity is all about trust and the mote we show community cohesiveness well as a rising tide lifts all boats."

You can hear more of Kurt's perspective on encryption, as well as privacy concerns associated with contact tracing, by following us down the rabbit hole: listen to the conversation here or on your favorite streaming service.

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