When it comes to computing, the Turing Award is the equivalent of a Nobel Prize. This year, Martin E Hellman and Whitfield Diffie, the creators of public-key cryptography, have been given the prestigious honor.
The award, which is named after the British mathematician Alan Turing, is worth $1 million in cash and is sponsored by Google. It is only awarded to engineers or scientists who have aided in the advancement of computing.
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Hellman and Diffie are the founding fathers of public-key cryptography, which is the basis of all secure messaging, even today. In 1976, the pair created the Diffie-Hellman key exchange protocol. The method works by using a public key for encrypting and a private key for decrypting.
It means that anyone trying to gain access has to have both the public and private key – the public key encrypts the message but a private key is required to access it.
It’s an interesting time for the pair to receive the award given the current clash between the FBI and Apple over the encryption of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone and another similar case in Brazil over Facebook-owned WhatsApp.
The pair will be presented with the award at a ceremony in California hosted by the Association for Computing Machinery in June.
➤ Cryptography pioneers receive ACM A.M. Turing Award [Association for Computing Machinery]