Friday, March 04, 2016

Stanford crypto boys get Turing Award

The NY Times reports:
Mr. Diffie would spend the next several years pursuing that challenge and in 1976, with Martin E. Hellman, an electrical engineer at Stanford, invented “public-key cryptography,” a technique that would two decades later make possible the commercial World Wide Web.

On Tuesday, the Association for Computing Machinery announced that the two men have won this year’s Turing Award. The award is frequently described as the Nobel Prize for the computing world and since 2014, it has included a $1 million cash award, after Google quadrupled its size.
Some later developments by MIT professors (RSA) got a Turing Award in 2002.

It is strange for the ACM to omit credit to their Stanford colleague, Ralph Merkle. Merkle independently invented public key cryptography and submitted it to an ACM journal, but the journal refused to publish it for several years.

I happened to get the inside story on this, when Merkle and were on opposite sides of a lawsuit. I read all of his rejection letters. One letter criticized him for not having any references to previous work in the field. He wrote back that there had been no work in the field because he was solving a problem that no one had ever considered before.

One referee report said that he had a simple advance in computational complexity, but that he should omit all the fluff about computer security.

That fluff about computer security is the basis of most computer connections today.

The MIT/RSA work seems to be more famous, and got the Turing prize 13 years earlier. But the Stanford-Diffie-Hellman-Merkle work was earlier, more fundamental, and had all the essential ideas for SSL/TLS secure computer connections.

Considering that the ACM cheated Merkle out of credit by rejecting his brilliant paper, it should have made up for it by making him a co-winner of the Turing Award.

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