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Turing Award For Cryptography.

The A.M. Turing award is the most prestigious award in the field of computing -- in fact, it is considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

The $1 Million award is bestowed by a scientific society known as ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) and is sponsored mostly by Google. This year, the award has been given to two individuals whose groundbreaking work has made internet security possible.

Whitfield Diffie who worked at Sun Microsystems and Martin Hellman, an ex-professor at Stanford University in California introduced the idea of cryptography and digital signatures back in 1976. They realized then that an open platform like the Internet could be used for exchanging personal information and secure communication would be needed.

What Is Cryptography?

Today, billions of people use the Internet to exchange confidential information, purchase goods with their credit cards, issue checks using their online bank account and more. All this would not be possible without cryptography -- the science and study of secret writing!

At the heart of cryptography, is the ability to encode (scramble) and decode (unscramble) messages. There are different ways of encoding messages. A code replaces words or phrases with groups of letters or numbers. You must all be familiar with the Morse Code that uses dots and dashes to convey messages.

Ciphers, on the other hand, rearrange letters or use substitutes to disguise the message. To create these complex ciphers, cryptologists use a "key". Much like a key to a home, this is a special code that will unlock the message. At the same time, the "key" should not be valid for long, and changes frequently. Why? So that should the message fall into wrong hands, it would be impossible to decode.

Making Internet Secure

Diffie and Hellman came up with a new system of encryption called the apublic key cryptography.' In this system, there are two keys -- a public key and a private key.

The private key is known to your computer alone; while the public key is given by your computer to any other computer that wants to communicate in a secure manner. So, when Bob wants to send a confidential message to Alice, he will use Alice's public key to encode (scramble) the message. On receiving it, Alice will use her private key to decode (unscramble) the message. So anyone snooping in on the conversation cannot decode the message without the private key!

Until the 1970s, work in cryptography was considered top secret and was controlled tightly by the NSA or the National Security Agency in the US. When Diffie and Hellman's paper came out, they were asked to abandon their research and were warned that they could face prison. These exchanges were the first of the "crypto wars" with the US Government.

But ultimately, the NSA failed to limit the spread of their ideas. Since then, public key cryptography has become the backbone of modern Internet communication.

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Title Annotation:Technology
Publication:Youngzine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 9, 2016
Words:547
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