Brainstorming, Developing and Tinkering at the Audi Kreathon of Logistics 2018

Photo credits: FZI Research Center for Information Technology

What did you do this summer? "I built prototypes at Audi." This is how 50 students and pupils in total can answer this question. From 8 to 11 June 2018, the second "Kreathon of Logistics" took place in the Audi R8 manufacture Neckarsulm. Pupils as well as students of various universities and disciplines were invited to develop prototypes to the subject "Digitalisation of Material Flow" in teamwork. Right in the middle of it: the FZI employees Laura Dörr, Dr.-Ing. Anne Meyer and Dr.-Ing Dominik Riemer as well as Felix Brandt.

The aim of the three-day event was to develop a functioning and tangible prototype. The required hardware components were provided by Conrad Electronic. Together with employees of the Institute for Material Handling and Logistics (IFL) at KIT, Laura Dörr, Anne Meyer, Dominik Riemer and Felix Brandt supported the organiser Audi Sport in the event planning. "We prepared the agenda together and evaluated and preselected suggested topics in advance. We did also prepare small software components that the participants were allowed to use for their prototypes," explains Laura Dörr. During the event, they and their colleagues of the FZI and KIT also mentored participants of the Kreathon in methodical and technical questions. The employees of the FZI did also develop an own prototype for an innovative system for car park monitoring and vehicle localisation together with two pupils during the event. One of the pupils was so motivated after the Kreathon that he decided to further develop the prototype during a six-week internship at the FZI. "It was nice to see how much fun everyone was having. I was really impressed by the things the young people did within three days," remembers Laura Dörr. The main highlight of the event: the closing presentation. The participant groups were able to present and demonstrate their developments to the plant management and an interested Audi team at a mini trade fair. Particularly an app for transport order distribution, which promotes having fun at work and employee motivation through gamification approaches, raised great enthusiasm.

The conclusion of the FZI employees? "We really enjoyed supporting the participants conceptually and technically," explains Laura Dörr. The FZI team is pleased to support Audi Sport again at the next Audi Kreathon of Logistics.


Career (with a Child) at the FZI: Administrative Manager Dr.-Ing. Nicole Groß

The daily life of a working mother in a leading position is exciting and challenging. Dr.-Ing. Nicole Groß, administrative manager of the FZI, gives us insights into her daily working life in this interview.

FZI Blog: You studied Electrical Engineering and Information Technologies and conducted research for your doctorate at the FZI in the department Embedded Systems and Sensors Engineering (ESS). How did you become the administrative manager of the FZI?

When I was working in the area of ESS, I was also responsible for setting up a quality management system for medical devices according to ISO 9001 besides my scientific activity. Later on, I was also involved in the development of an institute-wide quality management system for all divisions of the FZI. This gave me deep insights into the processes of the FZI, which was my ticket to the central divisions. After completing my doctorate, I was offered the opportunity to take over and further develop the FZI's quality management on my own responsibility. Over time, my area of responsibility grew. Today I am, as the administrative manager, responsible for a large number of employees and departments of the central division.

FZI Blog: What do you like most about your job?

I think it is great to be responsible for employees and to be able to work with and for the employees. I also appreciate that you have the opportunity to contribute and to show initiative in order to design your own workplace at the FZI and to bring the FZI forward. This is certainly not necessarily the case with every employer.

FZI Blog: You have a child.  How old is your son and how did your job change after you became a mother?

My son is two years old. His birth changed everything for me. I had to completely reorganise my private life as well as my job. This is fun, but also a great challenge. And since I am currently only working part-time, I have to organise my work thoroughly much more than I used to. In the last years, the departments I am responsible for have also grown enormously which was also a great challenge. As a part-time working mother, I had the opportunity to retain responsibility in my role as administrative manager. However, I have to make sure that I do justice to this role even with a reduced hourly rate.

FZI Blog: How do you manage your daily life as mother and administrative manager of the FZI?

My daily life is extremely jam-packed. The complete workflow and organisational process has to be coordinated according to tight business hours, attendance times as well as availability periods. Flexibilities of the FZI, of colleagues and of the family are really valuable, in order to be able to balance between being an administrative manager and a mum with a toddler.

FZI Blog: Many colleagues at the FZI are also parents. Is the FZI a family-friendly employer?

Yes, I think so. A big family-friendliness that the FZI offers is flexibility. We have trust-based working hours, this means that there are no provisions specifying when we have to start to work, and we can thus occasionally also keep important, private appointments. In addition to that, there is the employee retention working group, in which they are, amongst others, working together with employees of the FZI on increasing the family-friendliness of the FZI.

FZI Blog: Is there someone who has strongly supported you in your career? If so, how did he or she help you?

Our director, Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Stork is one of the main reasons why I came to the FZI and I was able to conduct research for my doctorate, which I am very grateful for. And also Jan Wiesenberger, member of the Board of Executive Directors of the FZI. I owe him that I was able to switch into the central divisions as well as that I am where I am today and that I have the opportunity to work in my position also as a mother.


Nicole Groß studied Electrical Engineering and Information Technologies at the Karlsruhe University (TH) and worked at the FZI as research scientist in the research division Embedded Systems and Sensors Engineering (ESS). After completing her doctorate, she assumed responsibility for the quality and knowledge management at the FZI in 2012. Since 2014, she has been the administrative manager of the FZI and responsible for human resources, the accounts department, project and order management, the purchasing department and the legal department.


The Age of E-Health: Medicine Meets Information Technologies

Photo credits: FZI Research Center for Information Technology

25.09.2018 - Electronic health files, telemedicine services, health portals and online pharmacies – digitalisation is also proceeding in the health care system. In recent years, the disciplines of medicine, IT and health management merged to form so-called “E-Health”. But how did this development actually emerge?

Until a few years ago, medicine did mainly use analogue technologies. Medical data were captured and printed out, so that the responsible physician could make the diagnosis on the basis of the print. Meanwhile, a trend is emerging: “In the meantime, there are first signs of a digitalisation of the health sector,” explains Christoph Zimmermann, Department Manager at the FZI Research Center for Information Technology in the research division Embedded Systems and Sensors Engineering (ESS). In his work, he deals with innovative information technology solutions for the health care system. In the field of application Smart Home and Ambient Assisted Living (AAL), he and his colleagues develop technologies that increase the safety and comfort of handicapped or elderly people in everyday life. Christoph Zimmermann’s opinion is that an interdisciplinary cooperation between information technologies and medicine offers many advantages: “Processes were digitalised, which led to huge time savings in almost every field of the sector. For example, medical protocols are increasingly being automated and not created manually. This leaves more time for the patient,” explains Zimmermann. Another advantage: The use of interconnected information and data analysis can increase the added value of medical products.

However, not only physicians and caregivers rely increasingly on digital solutions. Hard- and software solutions have also reached private life in order to reply to health and sports questions. The trend is called “Quantified Self”, which reached the consumer market a few years ago. More and more private persons started to measure their health and physical fitness – for example with Apple Watches, which measure the heart rate or fitness trackers, which determine the sports success. However, it quickly became clear that application levels were needed that collect, process and evaluate the data and thus provide private persons but also researchers with added value from “Quantified Self” solutions. The FZI develops such application levels together with partners from medicine,” states Zimmermann.

Further selected developments of the health sector will be presented by the FZI by means of 13 projects at the Karlsruhe Trade Fair Centre (Messe Karlsuhe), Aktionshalle (Events Hall), booth C10 at the AAL congress on 11 and 12 October. The exchange with visitors as well as other participants plays an important role for the FZI. “We are always open to cooperation and look forward to manufacturers contributing ideas or exploiting project results. Moreover, we are interested in the feedback from users and patients,” explains Zimmermann.


Career at the FZI: Dr. phil. Thomas Meyer About His First Months as the Manager of the Division ESS

Photo credits: FZI Research Center for Information Technology

03.08.2018 – Every beginning is difficult. Or maybe not? Thomas Meyer has been working at the FZI for two months as Division Manager of the research division Embedded Systems and Sensors Engineering (ESS). In his interview he tells us where he worked before and how he experienced the first two months at the FZI.

FZI Blog: Where did you work before?

For the last ten years I worked at KIT and managed a research group at the Institute of Vehicle System Technology, which is actually not usual for a historian. Most of the employees were from the field of mechanical engineering. For the last eight years I have also been Manager of the KIT Mobility Systems Center, which bundles the various research activities at KIT in the field of mobility.

FZI Blog: Did this job prepare you well for the tasks here?

Yes, I think so. Similar to the FZI, I had the task of moving various actors in the same direction. This requires a lot of coordination and communication, which I really enjoy. Through my job at KIT, I was also familiar with the research and university environment as well as most of the directors of the FZI.

FZI Blog: How did you experience the first two months at the FZI?

I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly I was received as a newcomer, as most of the division managers have already held different positions at the FZI. Unlike me, I came in from outside of the FZIInstitute. At the beginning I had to become familiar with the structures and processes of the FZI, which I also enjoyed. The two months passed surprisingly fast.

FZI Blog: What was your biggest challenge at the beginning?

It wasn’t that easy to remember all names. I have about 30 employees – about as much as a school class. In contrast to a teacher however, I don’t see every employee every day, which made it difficult to remember all names. It was also challenging to gain comprehensive knowledge of the processes and structures of the FZI within this short period of time.

FZI Blog: Why would you recommend young researchers to work at the FZI?

The FZI is an institution with a very positive spirit and a pleasant work atmosphere. Besides that, the conditions for conducting research are very good at the FZI: You get to know each other quickly and receive good support by the professors. Young researchers at the FZI have also the opportunity to participate in exciting and important questions, for example on topics from the fields of mobility, health care, data security or automation.

FZI Blog: What do you/I have to do to work as a division manager at the FZI?

I don’t think that you can qualify for this job linearly. It is the combination of experience, a certain network and the disposition to address new questions, which is also important.

You can find the video with Thomas Meyer here.


Thomas Meyer studied History with the focus of studies on the History of Technology, Philosophy and Mediaeval Studies at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg. In this context, he has dealt with topics from the fields of mobility, automotive history, urbanisation, and innovation research, among others. Since May 2018, he is the Manager of the research division Embedded Systems and Sensors Engineering (ESS).


Furby Home Alone – Dangerous Functions of a Toy

01.08.2018 - Children love it, it wiggles its ears, babbles, sings, dances and needs attention – the Furby. In the 1990s, the electronic playmate that is originally from Japan was to be found in almost every children's room. In 2016, the manufacturer Hasbro launched Furby Connect. The new, smart Furby can be connected via Bluetooth with the smartphone or with the tablet. An experiment of the Competence Center for IT Security, which is managed by Jochen Rill, the manager of the field of cryptography, shows the risks of the new function.

"Alexa, turn the lights off!", commands the pink Furby in the experimental setup of the researcher. And the smart lighting system goes off. The team of the Competence Center for IT Security has succeeded in modifying the Furby so that it can give commands to the language assistant Amazon Echo, which willingly executes them. "Furby Connect has an unsecured radio interface that lets you make him say everything you want to", explains Jochen Rill. If an electronic locking system were connected to the language assistant, hackers could even use Furby's help to have Alexa open the front door. The FZI researcher explains why this is possible: "Language assistants like Alexa only process what they hear, but not who the command comes from."

Since the Bluetooth connection has a range of approximately ten meters, it might be conceivable that a hacker is on the doorstep and accesses Furby from there. This is not even particularly complicated as the Bluetooth interface of the smart toy is unsecured."Most of the Informatics students in the first semesters would be able to do this," says Jochen Rill. Although the burglary scenario with Furby is quite unlikely, the FZI researchers’ experiment shows how unsecure voice commands without further authentications are. Furthermore, smart toys like the Furby are not the only devices that can talk to Alexa and give her commands. "A smart radio alarm, a baby-phone or an answering machine with a speakerphone – generally, all audio devices with unsecured radio interfaces can be manipulated in this way", explains the FZI researcher.

Furby does not have a switch-off function. However, there are other possibilities how owners can protect themselves against unwanted access by hackers. The simplest form: Remove Furby’s batteries. For other smart audio devices it is recommended to switch off the microphone or simply pull the plug. In contrast to Google Home, with Amazon devices it is possible to change the wake word "Alexa" to another one.


Jochen Rill has been working at the FZI since 2013 and is currently managing the field of cryptography of the Competence Centre for IT Security. In the framework of his doctorate, he focuses on the cryptographic modelling of complex, realistic systems and the detection of their security characteristics. The researchers of the Competence Centre for IT Security have been working on the security of smart devices for quite some time. The idea of the Furby experiment originates from the fundamental fear that poorly secured devices could become gateways to invaders in the smart home- the Furby, which can turn off the light, impressively demonstrates the consequences.


Research Project "PflegeCoDe" Optimal Support for People Suffering from Dementia

25.07.2018 - The number of people suffering from dementia increases every year. In spite of the need for care, most patients want to stay in their familiar environment as long as possible. The concept of outpatient care fulfils this desire, but is often associated with a feeling of insecurity for the relatives and presents a challenge even for professional carers. The research project "PflegeCoDe" aims to change this.

In order to improve the quality of life for patients and their relatives, as well as for carers, the FZI is currently conducting research in the project "Pflegecoaching für die optimale Unterstützung von Menschen mit Demenz" (care coaching for the optimal support of people suffering from dementia) – short "PflegeCoDe". This is a support system that can be used as an app via smartphone or tablet. An interactive, electronic coach is meant to have a positive impact on the course of dementia, for example by providing the carer with relevant information for a better understanding of the course of the disease. These information help to detect the disease early and to take initial measures. Moreover, the further course of dementia is continuously observed, which gives relatives more security – just like an integrated help platform that provides useful care and support tips. A further important function of "PflegeCoDe" is the electronic fall detection. The app is connected with sensors installed at the patient’s home that detect when the patient falls. In this case, relatives and/or carers will be informed immediately.

The research project "PflegeCoDe" has a duration of three years and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research with a total of EUR 1.6 million. Further information on the project as well as current research results can be found at: http://www.pflegecode.de/

The project coordinator is the BruderhausDiakonie in Reutlingen. Further project partners are, besides the FZI Research Center for Information Technology, the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, the Gemeinnützige Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie in Reutlingen, the Cervis GmbH from Oberhausen, the imc information multimedia communication AG from Saarbrücken, Viktat Hausnotruf GmbH from Rheine as well as the GS Electronic Gebr. Schönweitz GmbH.

Further information on the project can be found: in this video.


Business Lunch of the FZI Friends‘ Association - Alexander Rabe About the Digital Infrastructure in Germany

Photo credits: FZI Research Center for Information Technology

18.07.2018 - On 11 July 2018, the annual business lunch of the FZI Friends‘ Association took place at the Hotel Erbprinz in Ettlingen.

This year, the guests of the business lunch discussed about the digital infrastructure in Germany. In his lecture, Alexander Rabe, Manager of eco – the Association of the Internet Industry, talked about the possibilities of strengthening the digital infrastructure in Germany. He presented the challenges that Germany has to face on this topic and explained the requirements that still have to be fulfilled in order for Germany to remain a leader in the field of digitalisation in the future.

You can find Alexander Rabe’s lecture in full length here.


Career at the FZI: Researcher of the FZI Conducts Research on Bodiless Walking Robots

Photo credits: FZI Research Center for Information Technology/ Andreas Drollinger

06.07.2018 – An FZI researcher’s working day. Far from monotonous. In this interview, Timothée Büttner, research scientist of the research division ISPE, gives an insight into his daily work.

FZI Blog: How would you describe the FZI in three words?

Ambitious, visionary and collegial.

FZI Blog: What does your typical working day look like?

In the morning, first of all we have coffee and I check my emails. Afterwards I work on different projects usually together with my colleagues or I have to attend meetings. I also occasionally support the FZI Director Professor Dillmann and my direct supervisor Arne Rönnau in the lecture "Biologisch motivierte Robotersysteme" (Biologically motivated robot systems), which takes place in the summer term at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. For the lectures, I support them in the preparation of the material and I am happy when my main subject is dealt with in the lecture, namely biomechanics of robots as well as evolution and bionics. This is very interesting and fun. My tasks also include supporting student assistants. Currently, five students are supporting me in projects as well as in the research for my dissertation. I always try to involve the student assistants as much as possible into the projects and research but still give them freedom when working on their tasks.

FZI Blog: Which qualities do you think a research scientist should have at the FZI?

Definitely endurance and curiosity. But also creativity. This is particularly necessary when it comes to solving problems that have arisen at short notice. This is relatively common in research, because we are on new, unexplored terrain and it is not always foreseeable how things will go. In order to find good solutions quickly, we often have to think outside the box. Being creative helps.

FZI Blog: What does excite you the most about your function as a research scientist?

The variety. A job where I sit in front of a PC the whole day would not seem right for me. Here, I usually work simultaneously on several projects, programme as well as fiddle around with a lot of our robots at the same time. I also regularly participate in trade fairs, such as Hannover Messe or MOTEK, where together with my colleagues I represent the FZI externally. For my dissertation I also write and publish papers, which include my latest research results. I have the pleasure of presenting them frequently at international conferences. In a few weeks I will be travelling to a conference in Panama, for example.

FZI Blog: What is the topic of your doctorate?

Most walking robots look like bugs and their construction is self-contained. With my dissertation I want to change that. I want to remove the body of the robot, so that the robot consists of only six individual legs that contain the intelligence of the robot. The individual legs are supposed to be attached to different objects and to communicate with each other. The aim is to enable them to jointly lift and move an object, for example a suitcase or a beer crate. Stairs or rough terrain should also be feasible for the robot legs.


Timothée Büttner studied Mechanical Engineering with the specialisation in Product Engineering and Construction at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). In 2015, he finished his studies with his diploma thesis at the Institute of Product Engineering (IPEK). Since March 2016 he has been working as a research scientist in the department of Interactive Diagnosis- and Service Systems at the FZI.


Researchers of the FZI Win a Price at the BMVI Hackathon – 6 Questions to Dr. Ing. Dominik Riemer and Philipp Zehnder

08.03.2018 - From 2 to 3 March, researchers of the FZI Research Center for Information Technology participated in the Data-Run of the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) and finally returned, with the price for creativity in their pockets, to Karlsruhe. During the interview with our editors, Dr.-Ing. Dominik Riemer and Philipp Zehnder explained which strategy they used in order to receive the award.

FZI Blog: What was the BMVI Data-Run about?

Dr.-Ing. Dominik Riemer: The BMVI Data-Run is a hackathon of the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. In the framework of the open data strategy of the federal government, the BMVI designed the open data portal “mCLOUD” a few years ago. Open data sources of the ministry’s divisions, for example of traffic, noise pollution and emissions are made accessible to the public with the aim of supporting the development of innovative applications around the subject of mobility. The aim of the Data-Run was to develop and present an innovative solution based on the data provided within 24 hours.

Philipp Zehnder: The motto of the year was “Intelligente emissionsarme Mobilitätslösungen in Städten” (intelligent low-emission mobility solutions in urban areas). Against the background of the current political debate, the aim was to develop creative solutions for the reduction of emissions of the transport sector in urban areas. We worked on the question of how incentives can be created so that people do not always use the same means of transport on routine rides out of habit, for example on the way to work, but rather use the best means of transport that can change daily, depending on the weather, roadworks (people from Karlsruhe will know this!) or traffic.

FZI Blog: How many other teams have you competed against?

Philip Zehnder: A total of 17 teams participated. The team size varied significantly, we were almost the smallest team with two people, and other teams were represented by up to eight people.

Dr.-Ing. Dominik Riemer: However, we cannot say that we competed “against” other teams. The atmosphere was just like a concurrence of many people with the same interests, which is to develop something cool and useful within a short time. The exchange with the other participants was definitely really good. Many groups have developed great ideas, which will hopefully be followed up.

FZI Blog: For those readers who are not familiar with Hackathon: What is the difficulty of it?

Dr.-Ing. Dominik Riemer: It is about developing a solution within a limited period of time that has to be presented in front of an audience and a jury subsequently. In this case, the Hackathon took only 24 hours, which is not a lot of time to develop an idea, build a prototype and subsequently prepare a presentation. You should not get bogged down, besides that you have to concentrate on the things you ultimately want to show.

Philipp Zehnder: The lack of sleep is also a problem – we did not manage to work all night without taking a break and slept for a couple of hours, but other teams did work the whole time without even taking a break.

FZI Blog: What was your strategy?

Philipp Zehnder: At the beginning, we did not even have a strategy at all – we wanted to familiarise with the existing data sources on our way to the Hackathon in the train, but our train got cancelled and we thus had no Internet connection. The Hackathon started at 3 p.m., we then looked at the data for the first time and dispelled our first idea immediately. At some point we had the idea of a personal assistant.

Dr.-Ing. Dominik Riemer: We definitely wanted to show something that worked – for this purpose we had to integrate, among other things, the real-time data of the traffic news from Frankfurt. The data format, shall we say, was not that easy to read – I can still remember how I was still working on bounding the first data source at 8 p.m. and had doubts whether we would manage developing something that worked. Early in the morning at 4 a.m., it already looked different. ;-)

Philipp Zehnder: At the end, we had an executable tool that we could also present at the end of the event live – we were quite shaking, but everything worked.

FZI Blog: Which performance is awarded with the price for creativity?

Dr.-Ing. Dominik Riemer: The jury said in their laudation that they were convinced by our solution, because on the one hand there was potential to connect many different data from public sources and on the other hand there was a very accessible opportunity created for users to handle the data with the Chatbot developed by us. Many open data are still difficult to access for people with no developmental knowledge especially when data has to be machine-readable at the same time. Our solution relies on speech and thus allows a natural interaction and also covers many interesting application scenarios at the same time – in our demo we showed an example in which we offer citizens a discounted ticket in case of increased fine dust pollution.

FZI Blog: Does the FZI frequently participate in Hackathons?

Dr.-Ing. Dominik Riemer: In our research division Information Process Engineering (IPE) there are definitely some people who have already jointly participated in Hackathons, for example at Deutsche Bahn. At closed meetings of the chair of the FZI’s scientific director Prof. Dr. York Sure-Vetter and of IPE, we frequently have groups that jointly develop tools in a short period of time. However, this was my first big Hackathon.

Philipp Zehnder: I have already been at the event “Hackzurich” several times as a student. It is the biggest Hackathon in Europe. What I enjoyed a lot was how well everything was organised at the BMVI Data-Run – I was able to completely focus on coding, since it was taken care of everything.


Dr.-Ing. Dominik Riemer is department manager at the FZI. He wrote his dissertation on the subject of "Methods and Tools for Management of Distributed Event Processing Applications".

Philipp Zehnder works as a research scientist at the FZI. His research interests are in the fields of stream processing, machine learning, container technologies and distributed systems.

Further information on the Hackathon as well as a photo gallery can be found on the website of the BMVI.


Team FLA²IR Ready for the Final Phase of the European Robotics Challenge

15.02.2018 - On February 27, team FLA²IR takes part in the finals of the European Robotics Challenge.


On February 27, the finals of the European Robotics Challenge (EuRoC) are going to take place at Adam Opel AG in Rüsselsheim, Germany. Team FLA2IR, consisting of the FZI, Adam Opel AG and MRK Systeme, has been very busy preparing for the final phase of the challenge, where they are going to show how to attach a flexible polymer-based sealing strip on various models of doors with a robotic arm, which can work in close proximity to humans.

After reaching the final phase of the EuRoC challenge, team FLA²IR focused on designing innovative solutions to use robotics in areas of automation that were not automatable before. One of the main challenges of handling polymer sealings is that it cannot be mounted with classic robot control methods, since they require precise force control and good coordination skills that common industrial robots are unable to achieve easily. In the finals, this challenging application is going to be setup and demonstrated on the shop floor at Opel in Ruesselsheim.

To do this, they have developed different skills such as force-based manipulation for assembly and web-based tools to teach the robot the trajectory to follow, using the ROS Industrial interface. Despite the specialised application, these skills can be quickly transferred to solve different industrial challenges in the future.

A video on the FZI YouTube channel shows more about the work done by team FLA²IR at the showcase round. During this phase, the team was able to show that it is possible to assemble a polymer sealing with a robot. Now in the finals, they are going to demonstrate that this can also be done in a realistic automotive production scenario.


At the FZI, research scientist Georg Heppner is responsible for both the participation in the European Robotics Challenge and the work of team FLA²IR.


Why are Passwords So Important? 5 Questions to Roland Gröll, FZI Researcher

01.02.2018 - On the "Change Your Password Day" we ask Roland Gröll, from the Competence Center for IT Security, why passwords are important, by which means these often can be cracked and how far research is advanced concerning this subject.

FZI Blog: The "Change Your Password Day" takes place on 1 February. Why do we even need passwords?

Roland Gröll: With the help of passwords, it is ensured that only the person who knows the password can sign in for a service or on a computer.

FZI Blog: How often should we change our passwords?

Roland Gröll: Strong passwords don’t have to be changed regularly. This is likely to be the case if someone assumes that the password became known. There are studies that show that frequent changes of passwords can lead to users choosing weak passwords. There is thus the possibility that trough a too frequent change of passwords the security gets decreased instead of increased.

FZI Blog: What makes a password a strong password?

Roland Gröll: A password should ideally be hard to guess and random. This is achieved by using long passwords and by the mixture of letters, figures and special characters.

FZI Blog: How is it even possible to crack a password and what does the Competence Center for IT Security suggest in order to counteract this?

Roland Gröll: If a password is a "usual" password, there is a high risk that it will be found by a dictionary attack. In this case, a list of possible passwords is scanned to find the right one. You can counteract this by not using passwords that are on such lists. It should thus be random and extraordinary. Moreover, passwords are not securely stored at every service provider. It often happens that passwords are stolen from websites because these websites use unsecure technologies. A password should therefore only be used for one service so that only the concerning service is affected by such incidents. Other services you have an account in, stay secure. It can get confusing if you use one password per account. In this case password managers are recommended. The management of passwords is thus simplified.

FZI Blog: State of research: How can we, apart from passwords, safely surf the Internet?

Roland Gröll: It is important to keep the used software on the current state. You can thus protect yourself from malware, which is exploiting security-critical software errors in outdated versions. In addition to that, you should ensure that you communicate with the right websites and you do not fall for phishing. For this purpose, there are HTTPS. This is a version of HTTP which is used for confidential and authenticated connection to websites. Modern browsers show, apart from address bars, whether the connection is secure or not. Through adblockers you can protect yourself against malware, which use advertisements as possible points of attack.


Roland Gröll works as a research scientist at the Competence Center for IT Security at the FZI. He is currently working on Password Authenticated Key Exchange.