By an impressive coincidence, the inventors of the RSA algorithm -- one of the cornerstones of cryptography -- were awarded the Turing Award for computing on Monday; the day the annual IT security conference bearing their initials opened in San Francisco.
The Turing Award, described as computing's equivalent to the Nobel Prize and issued by the US Association for Computing Machinery, will go this year to Ronald L. Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard M. Adleman, who created the algorithm, RSA conference chairman Jim Bidzos told the conference. The three were all in the audience at the RSA Conference.
With 10,000 delegates, the RSA Conference -- now in its 12th year -- is the largest IT security gathering in the world and has its own awards ceremony. This year, US congressman Sherwood Boehlert won the RSA award for his public policy work helping promote cybersecurity research, while the mathematics award went to Mihir Bellare and Phillip Rogaway for their work on provable security.
Microsoft won an industry award for innovation, for its book "Writing Secure Code", by Michael Howard and David LeBlanc, which forms the basis for the company's own efforts to make its products trustworthy. And for practical implementation, the award went to furniture maker Herman Miller Inc.
The opening ceremony also instituted a semi-serious Computer Insecurity index, analoguous to US government efforts to quantify the level of terrorist risk. According to this subjective analysis, reckoned RSA vice-chairman Jim Bidzos, the vulnerability and threat indexes were both up, at a level of 8 out of 10, while the security industry itself was on a more comfortable index of 4 -- largely a reflection of relatively buoyant financial results. Government initiatives -- up since the US "war on terror" began -- also got approval from Bidzos.
In keeping with tradition, the opening ceremony also included two songs from a veteran rock band -- in this case Kansas. Previous conferences have included performances by Cheap Trick and Jefferson Starship.
The keynote was followed by a speech from Sandy Berger, former security advisor to President Clinton. Studiedly serious, he came up with no cryptographic implications of the war in Iraq. However, in a later session, RSA's Shamir drew a parallel between the Iraq situation and quantum cryptography, drawing a parallel with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal -- a cornerstone of quantum physics. "Saddam Hussein's quantum state is simultaneously one and zero," said Shamir. "The wave function can be resolved by measurement. The US has a 2000-pound measuring device," he said, referring to the US government's MOAB, the largest bomb in its conventional arsenal.