Ronald L. Rivest

Ronald L. Rivest

Awarded the Marconi Prize in 2007

Cited for lasting contributions to human progress.

Professor Ronald Linn Rivest received the 2007 Marconi Fellow and prize-winner, for his pioneering work in the field of cryptography, computer and network security. Rivest collaborated with two other scientists to create the world’s most widely used public-key cryptography system, a technology that has enabled entrepreneurial activity on an unprecedented level, and facilitated major advances in political and social interactions.

Rivest, a native of Niskayuna, New York, a suburb of Schenectady, New York, pursued his graduate studies at Stanford, where he briefly worked in the area of Artificial Intelligence, but soon realized that his real passion was for mathematics and theoretical computer science.

Having completed his Ph.D. studies at Stanford, in the fall of 1973, he accepted a post-doctoral position at INRIA (then called IRIA) in Rocquencourt, France (north of Versailles) where he worked with Jean Vuillemin and Gilles Kahn on various algorithms. He returned to the U.S. in the fall of 1974 to join the MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science faculty. At MIT he met two colleagues, Leonard Adleman and Adi Shamir, who would become his partners in solving the puzzle of public key cryptography.

Inspired by the 1976 paper, “New Directions in Cryptography,”which was the work of Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, Rivest enlisted his colleagues in a quest to develop what he called an “e-crypto system.” The result was the RSA system, the first full implementation of a public key cryptosystem, and the first to implement digital signatures. Its encryption algorithm relies on the challenge of factoring large prime numbers (typically 250 or more digits long), a problem that has stumped the world’s most prominent mathematicians and computer scientists for centuries.

The system was developed in 1977, and the trio founded RSA Data Security in 1983 (it was acquired in 1996 by Security Dynamics, which was acquired by EMC in 2006). In 1995, RSA Security spun out the digital certificate side of the business (which ties individual user sites to specific encryption keys) as VeriSign. Today, millions of copies of the RSA encryption and authentication technologies are installed worldwide.

Rivest has continued his work in encryption and is the inventor of the symmetric key encryption algorithms RC2, RC4, RC5, and co-inventor of RC6. The “RC” stands for “Rivest Cipher,” or alternatively, “Ron’s Code”. He also authored the MD4 and MD5 cryptographic hash functions.

He has authored and co-authored numerous books and papers, including Introduction to Algorithms (also known as ‘CLRS’), a standard textbook on algorithms, with Thomas H. Cormen, Charles E. Leiserson and Clifford Stein. Rivest continues to serve as a full professor, teaching both graduate and undergraduate courses in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and is a member of the lab’s Theory of Computation Group and a founder of its Cryptography and Information Security Group.

Rivest also collaborated with Silvio Micali to create the Peppercoin system for cost-effective, secure payment processing. The resulting company, Peppercoin, was formed in 2001 in Waltham, MA.

Rivest is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, the International Association for Cryptologic Research, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Together with Adi Shamir and Len Adleman, he has been awarded the 2000 IEEE Koji Kobayashi Computers and Communications Award, 2002 ACM Turing Award and the Secure Computing Lifetime Achievement Award. He has received an honorary degree (the “laurea honoris causa”) from the University of Rome. Rivest is a Fellow of the World Technology Network and a Finalist for the 2002 World Technology Award for Communications Technology. In 2005, he received the MITX Lifetime Achievement Award.