The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Information and Communication Technologies goes, in this tenth edition, to Shafi Goldwasser, Silvio Micali, Ron Rivest, and Adi Shamir, for their fundamental contributions to modern cryptology, an area which has had a tremendous impact on our everyday life. Their advanced crypto-protocols enable the safe and secure transmission of electronic data, ranging from e-mail to financial transactions. In addition, their work provides the underpinning for digital signatures, blockchains and cryptocurrencies.
Human societies have always needed secure communication, and the increasing prevalence of electronic and remote messaging and data transfer has made this need more acute. Moreover, the easy availability of powerful computers facilitates the hacking of codes. For these reasons, the design of openly available communication protocols represents a great research challenge, which was tackled superbly by the awardees. Their cryptologic research created groundbreaking concepts and methods in diverse branches of mathematics and theoretical computer science, including algorithms and complexity theory.
Adi Shamir and Ron Rivest contributed, over four decades, a collection of profoundly important secure protocols that defined the face of modern cryptography. In 1978, along with Len Adelman, they designed the RSA algorithm, one of the first and still widely-used secure public-key algorithms, which relies on the difficulty of factoring the product of two large prime numbers. Later Shamir formalized concepts such as shared secrets and differential cryptanalysis, which form the basis of much of today’s code-breaking. Rivest invented the eponymous RC symmetric key encryption and MD cryptographic hashes so prevalent in modern methods of software distribution.
Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali expanded the scope of cryptography beyond its traditional goal of secure communication, contributing to the invention of several elegant and original notions. These include the theory of pseudorandomness, which simplified the computational complexity of secure protocols; zero-knowledge interactive proofs that underlie critical applications from user authentication to bitcoin; and secure multiparty computation.