Seven cyber-security pioneers were honored with the prestigious RSA Conference Awards on Tuesday, Feb. 15, at the RSA Conference, a security exhibition that attracts security professionals from around the world. The annual conference, which began in 1991, was held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Awards were given in the following categories:

  • Excellence in the Field of Mathematics: Charles W. Rackoff, who received his Ph.D. in computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1974, is a researcher at the University of Toronto. His achievement  in the field of cryptography include co-originating the concept of interactive proofs, a protocol between two parties where one party, the prover, tries to prove a fact to another party, the verifier. Interactive proofs have been applied in identification and authentication in computer security.
  • Excellence in the Field of Security Practices: C. Ryan Brewer, chief information security officer (CISO) and director of the Office of the CISO Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Brewer is credited with changing the cyber-security program and culture at his office and implementing a risk-based computer security approach — saving the office millions of dollars in the process.
  • Excellence in the Field of Public Policy: William J. Lynn, III, U.S. deputy secretary of defense. Lynn, the 30th deputy secretary of defense, was recognized for his contribution and leadership in cyber-security policy. 

This was the 14th time the awards have been given out.

The conference also awarded Ronald Rivest, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT; Adi Shamir, a cryptography researcher; and Leonard Adleman, professor of biology and computer science at MIT, with the RSA Conference Lifetime Achievement Award. The three men developed the RSA algorithm, an encryption and cryptography algorithm, which takes its name from their last names. It’s the foundation for security in commerce.

Art Coviello Jr., president of RSA and executive vice president of the EMC Corp., told the crowd, “We have indeed been fortunate to stand on the shoulders of giants.”

The trio wrote about their algorithm in 1977 in the paper, A Method for Obtaining Digital Signatures and Public-Key Cryptosystems. Rivest’s research interests include cryptography, computer and network security, electronic voting and algorithms. Shamir has developed with his students and colleagues new cryptographic paradigms to be employed in an era of growth in computer networks and wireless communication. Adleman’s research interests include algorithms, computational complexity and DNA computing.

Keynotes on Tuesday were highlighted by security industry heavyweights. Speakers included Coviello; Scott Charney, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing; and Enrique Salem, president and chief executive officer of Symantec Corp.