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(IJCSIS) International Journal of Computer Science and Information Security

Vol. 8, No. 7, October 2010

On the Performance of Symmetrical and
Asymmetrical Encryption for Real-Time Video
Conferencing System
Maryam Feily, Salah Noori Saleh, Sureswaran Ramadass
National Advanced IPv6 Centre of Excellence (NAv6)
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM)
Penang, Malaysia

{maryam, salah, sures}

Abstract— Providing security for video conferencing systems is in Since the mid 90’s, numerous efforts have been devoted
fact a challenging issue due to the unique requirements of its real- towards the development of real-time multimedia encryption
time multimedia encryption. Modern cryptographic techniques solutions. However, most of the proposed algorithms are
can address the security objectives of multimedia conferencing characterized by a significant imbalance between security and
system. The efficiency of a viable encryption scheme is evaluated efficiency. Some of them are efficient enough to meet the
using two critical performance metrics: Memory usage, and CPU requirements of the multimedia encryption, but only provide
usage. In this paper, two types of cryptosystems for video limited security, whilst others are robust enough to meet the
conferencing system were tested and evaluated. The first security demands but require complex computations [5].
cryptosystem is asymmetric, whereas the second is symmetric.
Both cryptosystems were integrated and tested on a commercial This paper proposes a viable multimedia encryption that
based video and multimedia conferencing platform. addresses the requirements of video conferencing systems. The
efficiency of the proposed encryption scheme is evaluated
Keywords- Encryption; Asymmetric; Symmetric; Security; using two critical performance metrics: Memory usage, and
Efficiency; Video Conferencing. CPU usage. In this paper, the performance of two different
types of cryptosystems (symmetric and asymmetric encryption)
for encrypting real-time video data are tested and evaluated
I. INTRODUCTION based on the aforementioned performance metrics.
Video and multimedia conferencing systems are currently Performance tests of both encryption schemes have been
one of the most popular real-time multimedia applications and carried out using the Multimedia Conferencing System (MCS)
have gained acceptance as an Internet based application as [6] that is a commercial video conferencing application.
well. And since the Internet is involved, security has now The first encryption system is an asymmetric cryptosystem
become a very important aspect of such systems. To provide a based on Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) [7], whereas the
secure video conferencing system, cryptography is used to second encryption scheme is based on Blowfish [8] which is a
address data confidentiality and authentication. However, symmetric cryptosystem. These schemes have been chosen as
unlike plaintext, encryption of multimedia data, including the best representative of each symmetric and asymmetric
compressed audio and video, is a challenging process due to encryption based on their advantages. In fact, ECC is a recent
the following two constrains. First, the multimedia data public key cryptosystem which is more efficient and faster
encryption and decryption must be done within real-time than the other asymmetric cryptosystems [9]. On the other
constraints with minimal delays. Hence, applying heavy hand, Blowfish is known as the fastest symmetric encryption
encryption algorithms during or after the encoding phase will scheme which is compact and suitable for large blocks of data,
increase the delay, and are likely to become a performance and therefore suitable for video data encryption [8].
bottleneck for real-time multimedia applications. The second
constraint is that multimedia data is time dependent, and must The rest of this paper is organized as follows: Section II
be well synchronized. Therefore, the needed encryption must provides an overview of cryptographic schemes and compares
be done within the defined time restrictions to keep temporal symmetric and asymmetric cryptography. Section III discusses
relations among the video streams intact [1]. There are also the asymmetric encryption scheme for real-time video
other limitations due to the large size of multimedia data [2], conferencing system, while Section IV discusses the
[3], but the operation system’s network layer can be called symmetric encryption scheme. Section V provides details on
upon to handle this. In overall, a viable security mechanism performance tests and a comparison of both cryptosystems.
for real-time multimedia transmission must consider both Finally the paper will be concluded in Section VI.
security and efficiency [4].

This paper is financially sponsored by the Universiti Sains Malaysia
(USM) through the USM Fellowship awarded to Maryam Feily.

ISSN 1947-5500
(IJCSIS) International Journal of Computer Science and Information Security,
Vol. 8, No. 7, October 2010
II. OVERVIEW OF CRYPTOGRAPHY Modern public key cryptosystems rely on some
Cryptography is the art and science of hiding secret computationally intractable problems, and the security of
documents [9]. Security is very important in applications like public key cryptosystems depends on the difficulty of the hard
multimedia conferencing system. To provide a secure problem on which they rely. Hence, public key algorithms
multimedia conferencing system, cryptography is used to operate on sufficiently large numbers to make the
address data confidentiality, and authentication [10]. Modern cryptanalysis practically infeasible, and thus make the system
cryptographic techniques address the security objectives of secure [9], [18]. However, due to smart modern cryptanalysis
multimedia conferencing systems. In general, there are two and modern high speed processing power, the key size of
main categories of cryptography; symmetric and asymmetric public key cryptosystems grew very large [11]. Using large
key cryptography [9], [11]. keys is one of the disadvantages of public key cryptography
due to the large memory capacity and large computational
A brief overview of each category will be provided in this power required for key processing.
Section. In addition, symmetric and asymmetric cryptography
will be compared briefly to realize the advantages and There are several standard public key algorithms such as
disadvantages of each one. RSA [19], El-Gamal [20] and Elliptic Curve Cryptography
(ECC) [7]. However, ECC [7] is a recent public key
A. Symmetric Key Cryptography cryptography which is more efficient and faster than the other
asymmetric cryptosystems. Unlike previous cryptography
Symmetric key cryptography is one of the main categories
solutions, ECC is based on geometric instead of number
of cryptography. In symmetric key cryptography, to provide a
theory [9]. In fact, the security strength of the ECC relies on
secure communication a shared secret, called “Secret Key”,
the Elliptic Curve Discrete Logarithm Problem (ECDLP)
must be established between sender and recipient. The same
applied to a specific point on an elliptic curve [21], [22]. In
key is used for both encryption and decryption. Thus, such a
ECC, the private key is a random number, whereas the public
cryptosystem is called “Symmetric” [9]. This type of
key is a point on the elliptic curve which is obtained by
cryptography can only provide data confidentiality, and cannot
multiplying the private key with the generator point G on the
address the other objectives of security [9], [11].
curve [18]. Hence, computing public key from private key is
Moreover, symmetric key cryptography cannot handle relatively easy, whereas obtaining private key from public key
communications in large n-node networks. To provide a is computationally infeasible .This is considered as ECDLP
confidential communication in a large network of n nodes, that is much more complex than the DLP, and it is believed to
each node needs n-1 shared secrets. Hence, n (n-1) shared be harder than integer factorization problem [18]. Hence, ECC
secrets need to be established that is highly impractical and is one of the strongest public key cryptographic systems
inconvenient for a large value of n [11]. All classical known today.
cryptosystems that were developed before 1970s and also most
In addition, ECC uses smaller keys than the other public
modern cryptosystems are symmetric [11]. DES (Data
key cryptosystems, and requires less computation to provide a
Encryption Standard) [12], 3DES (Triple Data Encryption
high level of security. In other words, efficiency is the most
Standard) [13], AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) [14],
important advantage of the ECC since it offers the highest
IDEA [15], RC5 [16], Blowfish [8], and SEAL [17] are some
cryptographic strength per bit [9], [23]. This a great advantage
of the popular examples of modern symmetric key
in many applications, especially in cases that the
computational power, bandwidth, storage and efficiency are
Amongst all symmetric encryption schemes, Blowfish [8] critical factors [9], [23]. Thus, ECC has been chosen as the
is known as the fastest symmetric encryption scheme which is best asymmetric encryption in this research.
compact and suitable for large blocks of data, and therefore
suitable for video data encryption [8]. Thus, Blowfish is C. Symmetric Versus Asymmetric Key Cryptography
chosen as the best example of symmetric scheme for video Despite the Public key cryptography that can only provide
encryption in this research. data confidentiality, asymmetric key cryptography addresses
both data confidentiality and authentication. Public key
B. Asymmetric Key Cryptography cryptography solves the problem of confidential
Asymmetric or public key cryptography is the other communication in large n-node networks, since there is no
category of cryptography. Despite symmetric key need to establish a shared secret between communicating
cryptography, public key cryptosystems use a pair of keys parties. Moreover, there are protocols that combine public key
instead of a single key for encryption and decryption. One of cryptography, public key certificates and secure hash functions
the keys, called “Public Key”, is publicly known and is to enable authentication [11].
distributed to all users, whereas the “Private Key” must be
However, public key cryptosystems are significantly
kept secret by the owner. Data encrypted with a specific public
slower than symmetric cryptosystems. Moreover, public key
key, can only be decrypted using the corresponding private
cryptography is more expensive since it requires large memory
key, and vice versa. Since different keys are used for
capacity and large computational power. For instance, a 128-
encryption and decryption, the cryptosystem is called
bit key used with DES provides approximately the same level
“Asymmetric” [9].
of security as the 1024-bit key used with RSA [24]. A brief
comparison of symmetric and asymmetric key cryptography is
summarized in Table I.

ISSN 1947-5500
(IJCSIS) International Journal of Computer Science and Information Security,
Vol. 8, No. 7, October 2010
Cryptosystem Symmetric Asymmetric
Confidentiality Yes Yes
Data Integrity No Yes
Authentication No Yes
Number of Keys 1 2
Key Size Smaller Larger
Speed Faster Slower
Memory Usage Less More
Computational Overhead Less More
Good for N-node Networks No Yes
Figure 1. Video Capture Architecture
Some Examples DES/RC5/Blowfish RSA/El-Gamal/ECC

The asymmetric cryptosystem [25] based on ECC [7] will
be reviewed in this Section. In addition, this Section will
describe how this encryption scheme was implemented into
the MCS video conferencing system.
A. ECC-Based Cryptosystem
The asymmetrical encryption scheme that is tested in this Figure 2. Video Playback Architecture
research is a public key cryptosystem based on the Elliptic
Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) [25]. It is a In addition, it is important to mention that all encryptions
robust security platform that employs the most advanced and decryptions are performed only at the clients. In this
algorithms recognized by the global cryptography community architecture, video encryption and decryption are both
to meet the severe security requirements of certain performed within the application layer.
applications. Furthermore, it is a multilayer cryptosystem
which consists of multi layers of public-private key pairs [25]. After integration of the ECC-based cryptosystem [25] into
In its standard mode of encryption, this cryptosystem only the video component of the MCS [6], the performance of the
uses 256-bit ECC to encrypt the data. Although this system was tested to evaluate the efficiency of asymmetric
cryptosystem is an ECC public key cryptosystem, it uses other encryption for real-time video data. The result and analysis of
encryption algorithms as well. Mainly, it uses ECDSA for the performance test are presented in Section V.
authentication, AES and RSA for key encryption and SHA-2
for hashing.
In this Section, an alternative symmetric cryptosystem
However, since this cryptosystem is based on ECDSA, the scheme for video conferencing system is discussed. Amongst
security strength of its encryption scheme mostly relies on the all known symmetric encryption such as DES [12], 3DES
Elliptic Curve Discrete Logarithm Problem (ECDLP) applied [13], AES [14], IDEA [15], and RC5 [16], using Blowfish [8]
to a specific point on an elliptic curve. Hence, breaking this for video data encryption is suggested as it is known to be a
cryptosystem is theoretically equivalent to solving ECDLP, fast and compact encryption suitable for large blocks of data
which is computationally impractical for a large key size of [8]. The symmetrical encryption scheme based on Blowfish
256-bit [25]. was implemented by using OpenVPN [26], [27]. In this
B. Implementation of Asymmetric Scheme Section, Blowfish encryption is introduced, and the algorithm
is explained briefly. Furthermore, the details of implementing
As mentioned earlier, a proper security solution for video this security scheme into the MCS are explained.
conferencing system must address authentication and data
confidentiality [9]. However, authentication is well addressed A. Blowfish Encryption
by most video conference systems. Therefore, in order to have Blowfish is a symmetric block cipher based on the Feistel
a secure video conferencing system, data confidentiality must network. The block size is 64 bits, whereas the key can be any
be provided. Thus, in this research, the aforementioned length up to 448 bits. Blowfish algorithm consists of two
asymmetric encryption [25] is applied only to the video phases: Key Expansion and Data Encryption [8].
component of the MCS [6] to protect the video stream. There
are two modules in video component responsible for video In Key Expansion phase a key of at most 448 bits will be
encryption and decryption that are “Video Capture” and converted into several subkey arrays with maximum of 4168
“Video Playback” correspondingly. The architecture of Video bytes which will be used in the Data Encryption phase
Capture and Video Playback are depicted in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2 afterward. During the encryption phase, blocks of 64-bit input
respectively. data will be encrypted using a 16-round Feistel network. Each
round of this algorithm consists of permutations and

ISSN 1947-5500
(IJCSIS) International Journal of Computer Science and Information Security,
Vol. 8, No. 7, October 2010
substitutions. Permutations are key dependant, whereas TABLE II. SPEED COMPARISON OF BLOCK CIPHERS ON A PENTIUM
substitutions depend on both key and data. Decryption is Algorithm Number of Clock Number Number of Clock
exactly the same as encryption, except that subkeys are used in Cycles of Cycles per Byte
the reverse order. All operations are XORs and additions on Per Round Rounds Encrypted
32-bit words. In addition to these operations, there are four Blowfish 9 16 18
indexed array data lookups per round. Ultimately, the Khufu 5 32 20
algorithm is cost-effective due to its simple encryption RC5 12 16 23
function. Moreover, Blowfish is the fastest block cipher DES 18 16 45
available [8]. Table II shows the speed comparison of block IDEA 50 8 50
Triple DES 18 48 108
ciphers on a Pentium based computer [8].
B. Implementation of Symmetric Scheme
The performance of this scheme is tested on the
In order to implement the symmetrical encryption scheme commercial conferencing system, MCS [6] to realize the
based on Blowfish, OpenVPN software [26] is used as it efficiency of Blowfish as a symmetric encryption for real-time
provides the advantage of choosing from a wide range of video data. The results of the performance test and evaluation
cryptographic algorithms according to the level of security are presented in Section V.
required. OpenVPN’s cryptography library implements a
broad range of standard algorithms to efficiently address both V. PERFORMANCE TEST AND EVALUATION
data confidentiality and authentication [26], [27].
In this Section, the performance test and evaluation of both
For implementation, a VPN server is installed and symmetrical and asymmetrical encryption schemes for video
configured to run in UDP and SSL (Secure Socket Layer) conferencing are explained in details, and a comparison of
mode as the MCS uses UDP for its video stream, and the SSL both schemes is provided. In fact, the performance of both
Mode is more scalable than the Static Key Mode [27]. Most encryption schemes is tested to evaluate the efficiency of each
importantly, Blowfish CBC-mode with 128-bit is selected as scheme and to choose the optimal encryption scheme for real-
the symmetric cipher for data channel encryption to implement time video conferencing system.
the alternative symmetric encryption scheme. In order to
A. Performance Test
provide a multi layer encryption equal to the first scheme,
SHA1 with 160-bit message digest is chosen as the hash Performance tests of both symmetric and asymmetric
function algorithm, and 1024-bit RSA as the asymmetric encryption schemes have been carried out on the MCS [6] that
cipher for the control channel to provide authentication. The is a commercial conferencing application. In order to test and
implemented VPN tunneling and secure data transmission evaluate the performance of these cryptosystems, two critical
scheme is illustrated in Fig. 3 below. performance parameters namely, the average of CPU usage
and the average of Memory usage were measured. These
In this scheme, VPN implements a reliable transport layer parameters are then compared with a baseline that is the
on top of UDP using SSL/TLS standard protocol. In other performance of the video conferencing system without any
words, a secure layer is established between transport layer video data encryption/decryption. However, it is important to
and application layer. Hence, it provides a highly secure and mention that both encryption schemes have been tested and
reliable connection without the implementation complexities evaluated only in terms of efficiency, but not security; since
of the network level VPN protocols.

Secure Video Conference Between MCS Clients

Secured Network

MCS Server

MCS Client MCS Client
Payload Payload

Secure VPN Tunnel Secure VPN Tunnel

Payload Payload

VPN Client VPN Server VPN Client
Header Encrypted Payload Header Encrypted Payload

Figure 3. VPN Tunneling and Secure Data Transmission Scheme

ISSN 1947-5500
(IJCSIS) International Journal of Computer Science and Information Security,
Vol. 8, No. 7, October 2010
the security strength of both encryption schemes are confirmed
[8], [25].
All testing have been performed on the same test bed,
using identical clients with the following configuration in
Table III. This is the recommended system specification for a
typical video conference client using the MCS.
First, to provide a baseline for performance evaluation, the
performance of the MCS without any video
encryption/decryption is tested, and intended parameters are
measured. The measurement test bed comprised a video
conference between two clients connected to the LAN with a
high speed network connection with the speed of 100 Mbps. Figure 4. Comparison of CPU Usage
At the next stage, the same critical parameters have been
measured after applying each encryption schemes. Testing of
each case was performed for 80 sessions of video conference
between two clients using the MCS, and the average of
intended parameters (Memory usage, and CPU usage) was
B. Evaluation of Performance Result
In this part, the performance results of both symmetric and
asymmetric cryptosystems are compared to evaluate the
efficiency of each scheme, and to choose the appropriate
encryption scheme for real-time video conferencing. The
results of CPU usage and Memory usage of both schemes are
depicted in Fig. 4 and Fig. 5 respectively. Figure 5. Comparison of Memory Usage

According to the results, applying asymmetric encryption the VPN server, and does not affect the CPU usage of the
[25] to the video component increases both CPU usage and clients. Moreover, unlike ECC-based encryption, Blowfish
Memory usage significantly. The noticeable increase of the cipher does not require a large amount of memory, since it is a
CPU usage shown in Fig. 4 is related to the Video Capture compact cipher with a small key size of 128-bit [8]. In
module, and shows the heavy processing of the 256-bit ECC- addition, Blowfish encrypts and decrypts the payload of each
based encryption. Moreover, as it is illustrated in Fig. 5, the UDP packet, without creating any memory. Therefore,
Memory usage is also high and it keeps increasing during the Memory usage grows by almost a fixed amount of 5000 Kb as
video conference. This is due to the excess Memory usage by shown in Fig. 5. However, the slight increase in CPU usage
the cryptosystem as it creates several memories to encrypt and Memory usage is acceptable and does not affect the
each block of raw data. The dramatic increase of CPU usage overall performance of video conferencing system.
and Memory usage are considered as performance bottleneck
for the video conferencing system due to the limited VI. CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORK
processing power and memory capacity.
In this paper, the performance of two different encryption
In contrast, the symmetrical encryption based on Blowfish schemes for real-time video encryption for video conferencing
[8] is more cost-effective in terms of both CPU and Memory is evaluated in terms of efficiency. The first encryption was an
usage. Fig. 4 shows that applying symmetric encryption for asymmetric cryptosystem based on Elliptic Curve
video conferencing increases the average CPU usage slightly. Cryptography (ECC), whereas the second cryptosystem was
The 2% increase of the CPU usage is due to the Blowfish an alternative symmetric encryption based on Blowfish cipher.
encryption and decryption which is obviously far less than the These schemes have been chosen as the best representative of
CPU usage of the 256-bit ECC-based encryption. each symmetric and asymmetric encryption based on their
advantages. Performance tests of both encryption schemes
It is important to mention that OpenVPN [26] that is used
have been carried out on the MCS [6] that is a commercial
to implement asymmetric encryption uses public key
application. According to the results, the ECC-based
cryptography only for authentication which is mainly done in
cryptosystem [25] caused significant performance bottleneck,
TABLE III. SYSTEM SPECIFICATION OF CLIENTS and was not effective for real-time video encryption. In
contrast, the alternative symmetric encryption based on
Platform Windows XP Professional (SP2) Blowfish cipher [8] worked well with the MCS [6], and
Processor P4 1.80 GHz proved to be efficient for encrypting video data in real-time as
RAM 512MB it is capable to provide an acceptable balance between
Hard Disk 40 GB efficiency and security demands of video and multimedia
conferencing systems.

ISSN 1947-5500
(IJCSIS) International Journal of Computer Science and Information Security,
Vol. 8, No. 7, October 2010
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Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) through the USM [24] Menezes, A. J., Van Oorschot, P. C., Vanstone, S. A.: Handbook
of Applied Cryptography. CRC Press Inc. (1997).
Fellowship awarded to Maryam Feily. [25] Zeetoo(M) Sdn. Bhd: Zeetoo Encryptor ECDSA (2006). Available
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Multimedia. 8, 179- -187 (2006). AUTHORS PROFILE
[3] Zeng, W., Zhuang, X., Lan, J.: Network friendly media security:
rationales, solutions, and open issues. In: IEEE International
Conference on Image Processing (2004). Maryam Feily is a Ph.D. Student and a
[4] Choo, E. SRMT: A lightweight encryption scheme for secure Research Fellow at the Universiti Sains
real-time multimedia transmission. In: IEEE International Malaysia (USM).She received the B.Eng.
Conference on Multimedia and Ubiquitous Engineering
degree in Software Engineering from the
(MUE'07), pp. 60- -65. IEEE Press (2007).
[5] Liu, F., Koenig, H.: A novel encryption algorithm for high Azad University (Iran) in 2002, and the
resolution video. In: ACM International Workshop on Network M.Sc. degree in Computer Science from
and Operating Systems Support for Digital Audio and Video USM (Malaysia) in 2008. She has been
(NOSSDAV’05), pp. 69- -74. ACM New York (2005).
awarded with the USM Fellowship in
[6] MLABS.Sdn.Bhd: Multimedia Conferencing System - MCS Ver.6
Technical White paper (2005). Available at 2009. Furthermore, she is proud of being one of the successful graduates of Iran’s National Organization for Development of
[7] Certicom: SEC 1: Elliptic Curve Cryptography. Vol. 1.5 1.0, 2005. Exceptional Talents (NODET). Her research interests include
Available at Network Management, Network Security, Cyber Security, and
Overlay Networks.

ISSN 1947-5500
(IJCSIS) International Journal of Computer Science and Information Security,
Vol. 8, No. 7, October 2010

Salah Noori Saleh is a Senior Sureswaran Ramadass is a Professor
Developer and Researcher in the with the Universiti Sains Malaysia
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). He (USM). He is also the Director of the
has received the Ph.D. degree from USM National Advanced IPv6 Centre of
in 2010. He received the B.Sc. degree in Excellence (NAV6) at USM. He
Computer Engineering from the received the B.Sc. degree and the M.Sc.
University of Baghdad (Iraq) and the degree in Electrical and Computer
M.Sc. degree in Computer Science from Engineering from the University of
USM (Malaysia). His research interests include Network Miami in 1987 and 1990 respectively. He received the Ph.D.
Architectures and Protocols, Multimedia and Peer-to-Peer degree from the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in 2000
Communications, Overlay Networks, and Network Security. while serving as a full time faculty in the School of
Computer Sciences. He is a Primary Member of APAN as
well as the Head of APAN Malaysia (Asia Pacific
Advanced Networks). He is currently the IPv6 Domain
Head for MYREN (Malaysian Research and Education
Network) and the Chairman of the Asia Pacific IPv6 Task
Force (APV6TF).

ISSN 1947-5500