Last year, Liza and I accidentally collided on our journey to challenge ourselves. This blog is a humble attempt to connect all of the pieces of our journey puzzle together in a meaningful way. When we took off, we were equipped with nothing but tiny backpacks filled to the brim with curiosity and determination. Picture two tiny mountain goats staring at mount Everest with wide-eyed astonishment.

The stars conveniently aligned for us as we met on the MSc Cyber Security program at Tallinn University of Technology.

Kat had an early introduction to Blockchain in her bachelors degree in Edinburgh and was deeply inspired by professor Bill Buchanan. He left a great impression with his cryptocharm and also praised Estonian efforts in privacy preservation. Then, Kat found herself researching and ultimately moving to Estonia to pursue studies in cyber security. Here in Tallinn she was further inspired and supported by another professor, Aleksandr Lenin who has solidified her desire to understand and study cryptography. Finally, she was later greeted with more enthusiasm and support from Liza.

On the other side of the coin, Liza also got her inspiration from a professor in Tallinn, Ahto Buldas. She wrote her bachelor’s thesis with him, analysing lattice-based key establishment protocols (sounds crazy, doesn’t it?). However, she did not want to start her journey of committing her life to cryptography alone. She further studied cryptography, during a seminar of special topics in which she researched two-party ECDSA (another confusing term which we will explain in later chapters).

Kat and Liza’s introductory meeting was a rather glamorous affair: we were sipping on a glass of white wine as we first discussed post-quantum cryptography. Liza and I both shared a far-reaching life goal to understand a field that is both mysterious and magical. Neither of us started out mathematically advanced and in many ways, both of us feel like we are lacking a tonne of background knowledge needed to truly grasp cryptographic concepts. Nevertheless, feeling highly motivated to pick up the slack and improve our skills.

Cryptography specialization

Our masters program has 3 different specializations: cyber security, digital forensics and last but not least, cryptography. The funny yet disturbing thing about the last option is that very few people take it. In fact, there are around 60 people in total on the program and only 2–5 people usually make this move to take the cryptospecialization. There are a few reasons why this could be the case. Summarised in a short lemma, maths + Tartu = avoid at all costs.

From the very beginning, we were convinced that neither of us would ever change their specialization and fully commit to it. We kept toying with the idea of simply doing some of the cryptography subjects on the side but deep inside we knew that it would not satisfy our hunger.

We dedicated long hours in the evenings to take a course on quantum computing and reach out to the people with the needed expertise. Ultimately, we were in a state of superposition: we told ourselves that the cryptospecialization was not happening, yet we were doing everything we could to make it happen. Both of us spent hours of research looking into skills needed to understand the subjects, contacting people who have previously studied them and reflecting on their experiences.

Thesis with Ahto

We were slowly growing commitment with our relationship with the cryptospecialization as we arranged a meeting with Ahto Buldas in order to ask him to be our thesis supervisor. The ongoing adventure started to look more realistic as he gave us a proposition to research threshold post-quantum digital signatures (another wtf mix that we aim to explain at a later stage).

Tartu

The last last card in the sleeve was to take a trip to Tartu and explore the possibility to move and study there firsthand. We felt welcomed by everyone we met and got another inspiration boost from all of the encounters with the Tartu professors. The end of the trip reached peak relaxation levels as we visited the beautiful Botanical gardens, loving every little thing about the city. Meanwhile, passionately discussing the 0% chance of us moving there.

Change of specialization

Finally, this not-so-tragic tale came to an end as we both agreed to take the leap of faith and change our specialization to cryptography. But that is when the journey truly begins.

And here are some recommended places to visit in Tartu to feel the atmosphere of this post:

A modern day woman with a weak constitution.