This week it was announced that MIT professors and CSAIL principal investigators Shafi Goldwasser, Silvio Micali, Ronald Rivest, and former MIT professor Adi Shamir won this year’s BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards in the Information and Communication Technologies category for their work in cryptography.
The BBVA Foundation awards span eight categories, for contributions of "originality and theoretical significance, (including) research work that successfully enlarges the scope of our current knowledge.”
The professors were awarded for their significant contributions in advanced crypto-protocols, which enable secure transmission of data for things like transactions, emails, and social information. Their work also provides a basis for crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin.
"The aggregate work of the awardees is crucial to the fabric of our connected digital society," said the jury bestowing the award. "Every time we log in to social media, purchase goods online...or sign electronically, we leverage the technology developed by their research."
In 1978, Rivest and Shamir, with Leonard Adleman, created the “RSA algorithm”, which was the first protocol that let users securely transmit data in an intractable way for today’s computers. The method is called “public-key” encryption, as it gives users two keys: a public key to encrypt the message, and a second key known only to the receiver.
"In the late 1970s, we didn't even have the World Wide Web, it was impossible to imagine that our method would become what it is today”, says Rivest in a related press release. “Right now, each time we make an online purchase, the transaction's security is based on our encryption technology.”
Later on in 1982, Goldwasser and Micali had a prolific partnership of their own. After taking the same doctorate course, they came up with a mathematical demonstration for when an encryption method is genuinely unbreakable.
“Our contribution was to apply a rigorous method to ensure that if someone wants to understand part of an encrypted message, they would first have to solve a mathematical problem that has stood unsolved for hundreds of years,” says Micali in a related press release.
Goldwasser is the RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. Her research contributions include zero-knowledge interactive proofs, protocols, and multi-party secure protocols, which are instrumental technologies for online identification and utilizing blockchains for distributed transactions.
Rivest is an Institute Professor at MIT. In addition to co-inventing the RSA public-key cryptosystem, he is a founder of RSA Data Security and has worked in the areas of computer algorithms, machine learning, VLSI design, and election integrity.
Micali is Ford Professor of Engineering at MIT. His scientific interests focus on information security, such as interactive and computationally sound proofs, zero knowledge proofs, secure protocols, and mechanism design.
The BBVA Foundation is based in Madrid, Spain.