Co-Author Of RSA Encryption Algorithm Given Marconi Award For Cryptography Research

Ronald Rivest worked with two MIT colleagues to develop public key encryption, and then founded RSA Data Security in 1983.

Sharon Gaudin, Contributor

July 18, 2007

2 Min Read

A co-author of the RSA encryption algorithm has been named the 2007 Marconi Fellow and prizewinner for his pioneering work in the field of cryptography, computer and network security.

Ronald L. Rivest, who helped develop public key cryptography, is now a professor in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He is scheduled to receive the award, and the $100,000 that goes along with it, at the annual Marconi Society Award Dinner on Sept. 28.

The society cited Rivest's advances in public key cryptography, a technology that allows users to communicate securely and secretly over an insecure channel without having to agree upon a shared secret key beforehand. According to a release from MIT, Rivest worked with two colleagues at the school -- Leonard Adleman and Adi Shamir " in his efforts to create what he called an "e-crypto system."

"Ron is a very special person," said Adleman, in a written statement. "He has a Renaissance quality. If tomorrow he discovered an interest in rocketry, then in five years he would be one of the top rocket scientists in the world."

MIT reported that encryption algorithm that Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman developed relies on the challenge of factoring large prime numbers -- typically 250 or more digits long. It's a problem that MIT noted has stumped the world's most prominent mathematicians and computer scientists for centuries.

The threesome developed its system in 1977 and founded RSA Data Security in 1983. RSA was acquired in 1996 by Security Dynamics, which then was bought by EMC in 2006.

Rivest has continued his work in encryption and is the inventor of the symmetric key encryption algorithms RC2, RC4, and RC5, and is co-inventor of RC6, according to MIT.

"Ron Rivest's achievements have led to the ability of individuals across the planet -- in large cities and in remote villages -- to conduct and benefit from secure transactions on the Internet," said Robert Lucky, chairman of the Marconi Society, in a written statement. "Public key cryptography has flattened the globe by enabling secure communication via e-mail, Web browsers, secure shells, virtual private networks, mobile phones, and other applications requiring the secure exchange of information."

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