Weizmann Institute professor wins Turing Award

Prestigious computing prize will go to cryptography expert Prof. Shafi Goldwasser and MIT professor Silvio Micali.

March 15, 2013 02:19
2 minute read.
Prof. Shafi Goldwasser.

SHAFI GOLDWASSER 370. (photo credit: Weizmann Institute)

The Turing Award of the Association for Computing Machinery – considered the most prestigious prize for computing (as there is no Nobel Prize in the field) – will go to cryptography expert Prof. Shafi Goldwasser of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s computer science and applied mathematics department.

Goldwasser will share the $250,000 award with Prof. Silvio Micali of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for their “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. Their work involves innovations that became the gold standard for enabling secure Internet transactions.”

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The prize is funded by Intel Corporation and Google Inc. and will be awarded at the Association for Computing Machinery’s awards banquet on June 15 in San Francisco.

Goldwasser is the third member of the Rehovot institute to receive the award. The others are professors Amir Pnueli (1996) and Adi Shamir (2002). She is the fifth Israeli and the third woman to win the prize.

The award is named in memory of Alan Turing, the British “father” of computer science and artificial intelligence and a mathematician who was a renowned codebreaker in the Second World War.

In their 1982 paper on “Probabilistic Encryption,” Goldwasser and Micali laid the rigorous foundations for modern cryptography. The work is universally credited in changing cryptography from an “art” to a “science.”

This paper pioneered several themes that are today considered basic to the field. These include the introduction of formal security definitions that are now the gold standard for security; the introduction of randomized methods for encryption that can satisfy stringent security requirements that could not be satisfied by previous deterministic encryption schemes; and the methodology of “reductionist proofs,” which shows how to translate the slightest attack on security into a fast algorithm for solving such hard classical mathematical problems as factoring integers.

These proofs are a double-edged sword, in that they show that one of two things must be true: Either we have a super-secure encryption scheme, or we have new algorithms for factoring integers.

They developed the most general method for proving security in cryptography, going beyond privacy to define and prove security of authentication methods, security of software protection schemes and security of cryptographic protocols that involve many participants, for example electronic elections and auctions.

Vint Cerf, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, said the practical impact of the ideas put forward by Goldwasser and Micali is “tangible. The encryption schemes running in today’s browsers meet their notions of security. 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.”

A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with a BA degree in mathematics, Goldwasser received advanced degrees in computer science from the University of California at Berkeley and joined the Weizmann Institute in 1993 as a full professor.

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