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Sebastian Klöckner

CISPA and Helmholtz welcome the Federal government's change of course regarding coronavirus app

Helmholtz and CISPA welcome the Federal Government’s decision in favor of a consistently decentralized approach in the development of a tracing app.

“Helmholtz supports the decision of the Federal Government in favor of a decentralized solution supported by a broad international consortium. Germany is represented in the lead role by the Helmholtz Center for Information Security - CISPA. The center is working with partners at the national level to implement an app as quickly as possible,” says Otmar D. Wiestler, President of the Helmholtz Association.

The decision of the Minister of the Chancellor’s Office Helge Braun and the Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn in favor of the decentralized solution is based on preliminary work by an international consortium, in which the Helmholtz Center for Information Security - CISPA plays a major role. The approach called DP-3T is being developed in cooperation with other international IT security and data protection researchers, including EPFL, ETH Zurich and KU Leuven.

“We are glad and grateful that this data protection-friendly solution, which was developed across borders by many other researchers, will be available quickly and across national borders,” says Michael Backes, CEO and founding director of the Helmholtz Center for Information Security - CISPA. The advantage of such a decentralized architecture for contact tracing is that there is no central location where the personal data of the app users, their IDs and their contact network are brought together and processed. All critical processing is done locally on the smartphone. The exchange of data also takes place via a server. However, this server is less attractive for criminal hackers, as the data stored there is intended to be passed on to all app users anyway.

DP-3T allows the smartphone to store the encounter data only locally. Every day, the smartphone retrieves a key for the Bluetooth IDs of positively tested citizens who have voluntarily provided them. The user’s smartphone then calculates locally whether citizens have encountered this Bluetooth ID and, if so, issues a risk warning and information on where they can get help quickly.

DP-3T is completely open source and can also be reviewed and tested by external experts. A prototype of the app for Android and iOS was already released on April 17. Switzerland intends to introduce the decentralized approach in the country by May 11. Helmholtz, as the German consortium partner, together with the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and other partners from industry, science and politics, is actively participating in the implementation of this solution in Germany.