Prof. Adi Shamir, a computer scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, has been named a 2002 winner of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) A.M. Turing Award, regarded in academic circles as the "Nobel Prize" of computer science.
Shamir shares the award with Ronald L. Rivest of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Leonard M. Adleman of the University of Southern California. It will be presented to them in June at the annual ACM Awards Banquet.
While working at MIT in 1977, the three scientists developed a method that later became known as the RSA algorithm (the acronym for their last names). Used worldwide to secure Internet, banking and credit card transactions, the RSA algorithm allows for the delivery of encrypted and signed codes and their decryption between parties that have never previously been in contact. The time needed to crack some versions of the method, which is based on the multiplication of two very large prime numbers and the difficulty of determining those prime numbers from their product, is estimated at thousands of years on the fastest computers. Among the numerous applications of this research are smart cards, regularly installed in household television sets to ensure that only subscribers receive TV satellite broadcasts. The smart card also allows the company activating the satellite to charge its customers only for programs viewed by them. Shamir began his acquaintance with the Weizmann Institute as a teenager participating in its youth activities. He later earned his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees at the Weizmann Institute of Science and went to MIT, where he spent three years, from 1977 to 1980. He then returned to the Weizmann Institute, publishing numerous articles and receiving several prestigious awards, including ACM's Kannelakis Award, the Erdos Prize of the Israel Mathematical Society, the IEEE W.R.G. Baker Prize, the UAP Scientific Prize, The Vatican's PUIS XI Gold Medal and the IEEE Koji Kobayashi Computers and Communications Award.
Second Winner at Weizmann, Third in Israel
Prof. Amir Pnueli, also a Weizmann Institute computer scientist, was similarly honored in 1996 for his contributions to program and systems verification. Prof. Michael Rabin from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Harvard University received the award in 1976 for his research on nondeterministic machines. The A.M. Turing Award has been presented annually since 1966 to individuals who have made contributions of "lasting and major technical importance" to the field of computer science.
This year's award, bestowed for achievements in cryptography, seems to have special significance: The award's namesake, Alan M. Turing, was a British mathematician renowned, among others, for cracking the constantly changing code generated by the German wartime computer (called "Enigma") during World War II.