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MIT crypto pioneers scoop Turing Award

Nobel Prize of computing goes to Goldwasser and Micali

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Two professors from MIT have won the Turing Award for their pioneering cryptography work.

Shafi Goldwasser, the RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a professor at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, and Silvio Micali, the MIT Ford Professor of Engineering, secured the award for "transformative work that laid the complexity-theoretic foundations for the science of cryptography, and in the process pioneered new methods for efficient verification of mathematical proofs in complexity theory," as a citation for the 2012 ACM A.M. Turing Award explains.

A statement by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) adds:

By formalizing the concept that cryptographic security had to be computational rather than absolute, they created mathematical structures that turned cryptography from an art into a science.

Their work addresses important practical problems such as the protection of data from being viewed or modified, providing a secure means of communications and transactions over the internet. Their advances led to the notion of interactive and probabilistic proofs and had a profound impact on computational complexity, an area that focuses on classifying computational problems according to their inherent difficulty.

The pair are responsible for zero-knowledge proof systems, which allow one party to prove the validity of a statement to a second party without revealing any information beyond the validity of the statement. This means that the second party could not go on to prove the validity of a statement to a third party.

Goldwasser and Micali laid the groundwork for technologies such as SSL encryption and digital signatures, according to ACM President Vint Cerf, who won the award himself in 2004.

“The encryption schemes running in today’s browsers meet their notions of security," Cerf said. "The method of encrypting credit card numbers when shopping on the internet also meets their test. We are indebted to these recipients for their innovative approaches to ensuring security in the digital age.”

Limor Fix, director of the University Collaborative Research Group at Intel Labs, added:

The work of Goldwasser and Micali has expanded the cryptography field beyond confidentiality concerns.

Their innovations also led to techniques for message integrity checking and sender/receiver identity authentication as well as digital signatures used for software distribution, financial transactions, and other cases where it is important to detect forgery or tampering. They have added immeasurably to our ability to conduct communication and commerce over the internet.

Goldwasser and Micali were joint authors of an influential paper, Probabilistic Encryption as graduate students in 1983. Their definition of the security of encryption as a “game” involving adversaries has become a trademark of modern cryptography. An adversary (third party) should not be able to gain even partial information about a cryptographic secret, they argued.

The two cryptographers will split a $250,000 prize that accompanies the award, which is due to be presented by the Association for Computing Machinery on 15 June in San Francisco. The prize in sponsored by Intel and Google.

A full list of Turing Award winners can be found here. ®

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