Grand Opening for the Linz Christian Doppler Lab for Private Digital Authentication in the Physical World

Due to measures to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Private Digital Authentication in the Physical World (DIGIDOW) enjoyed a virtual grand opening.

Professor René Mayrhofer, Credit: Florian König
Professor René Mayrhofer, Credit: Florian König

In the digital presence of Margarete Schramböck (Economics Minister), Markus Achleitner (Councilor for Economic Affairs), and Klaus Luger (mayor of Linz), Meinhard Lukas (Rector of the Johannes Kepler University Linz), Martin Gerzabek (the President of the Christian Doppler Research Society), and Prof. René Mayrhofer (head of the laboratory) explained the research facility’s scientific and social significance.

Minister Schramböck emphasized the concrete issues the lab will focus on: "Digitalization opens up countless opportunities and possibilities ranging from electronic payments to passports. However, continuous research is still needed in order to be secure – research such as decentralized solutions found in this CD lab. The more we know, the more opportunities and greater freedom of decision we will have for the private sector as well as when making political decisions in the future." Markus Achleitner and Klaus Luger discussed the lab’s importance for Linz and Upper Austria.

Markus Achleitner, Upper Austrian Minister for Economic Affairs and Research, added: "Data is the new gold. The Achilles' heel, however, is protection and data security and Upper Austria aims to establish itself as an internationally visible competence center for IT security. Research conducted at the new Christian Doppler Laboratory will contribute significantly and strengthen Upper Austria’s competitiveness as a location of business."

Mayor Klaus Luger remarked: "Linz has been enriched by this significant research institution and I am extremely pleased. I believe the Christian Doppler Laboratory represents the successful collaboration between science and industry, bringing numerous advantages for both. Current developments mean we have to strengthen both our innovative power and our economic performance. The laboratory's research, such as the future development of the 5G network, certainly contribute.”

€ 1 Million in Funding by Ministry of Economics
In addition to the public sector, a number of private companies are also involved in the laboratory. One company is NXP and Paul Hubmer (CTO of NXP Semiconductors Austria) added: "NXP strives to offer its customers safe, reliable and flexible Smart City solutions. By supporting the CDL DIGIDOW project, we will not only leverage new technologies for convenient and secure user-centric solutions, but also prepare for the challenges that come with account-based and cloud identification-based systems. The world is becoming increasingly networked and we are committed to ensuring the deployment of future technologies in simple, secure and reliable ways."

Stefan Vogl, expert at the Austrian State Printing Office, remarked: "In the decade ahead, technology will be the determining factor. We cannot, however, solely focus on technology and at the expense of data protection; we also want to demonstrate options that deliver innovative technical solutions while fully respecting data protection. In this regard, it is very important for us to be part of the DIGIDOW project."

Karl Stöbich of 3-Banken-IT underlined: "As an IT service provider for the financial industry, it is particularly important for us to secure digital authentication as it is a required prerequisite to continue digitalizing banking processes. In this respect, this issue and our participation in DIGIDOW is very important."

Lukas: The Role of Science to Combine Security and Freedom
During his opening remarks, Rector Meinhard Lukas underscored the role of science to bring security and freedom together. "We have a responsibility to society and to the individual. We have a responsibility to think comprehensively but also keep a watchful eye on consequences. The current Coronavirus pandemic in particular has shown us just how tempting it can sometimes seem to be and think that fundamental rights are less important, at least for a little while. But it can be a dangerously tempting because once you have made a decision like this, you can make it again. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to implement the moral dimension during the development of these kinds of applications. I wish all those involved every success for the coming years and the research activities ahead."

Martin Gerzabek (Christian Doppler Research Society) observed: "For example, in order to use public transportation or cross into a different country, we have to present a ticket or a passport. These kinds of physical objects used for verification purposes are a security risk because they can be lost, stolen, forged, or damaged. It would be technically feasible in the near future to use biometric data for verification purposes and exclude the loss or theft of physical items. As long as the data is available, we could use these verification options." Centralized databases could easily create these types of digital IDs as they store all of the user’s biometric data. However, there is a potential for abuse, including falsifying and deleting digital identities, when talking about central monitoring and storing all user movements and interactions.

René Mayrhofer emphasized that combining science and ethics would be a decisive driving force at the lab as “… it is impossible to completely monitor and control all of the users, which is currently does not comply with the universal basic right to privacy and is incompatible with European concepts of data protection.” In this regard, interdisciplinary research will focus on cryptography, networks, distributed systems, biometric authentication, machine learning and secure program code as well as the related social, legal and ethical aspects.