Ron Rivest is the “R” in RSA, the now-famous public-key cryptosystem for which he and his colleagues Adi Shamir and Len Adelman won the A. M. Turing Award for 2002. In this oral history interview, Ron tells of his early interest in mathematics and computing that eventually took him to Stanford for a PhD under Bob Floyd in the 70’s, an era when many future notables in computing were there. After a post-doc in France, he became a professor at MIT, where he has been since 1974.
Ron talks about the origins of RSA and early, unsuccessful efforts to commercialize it before computing hardware was really up to the computational requirements, then talks more broadly about his interests in computer security, cryptography, and analysis of algorithms. He also discusses his more recent involvement in efforts to create secure voting systems and why, at least for now, verifiable online voting is not possible. He concludes with some thoughts about future directions in computer security and recommendations for those thinking of specializing in computing today, especially regarding the interplay of computing theory and practical systems.
RSA; public-key cryptography; Analysis of algorithms; Computer security; Internet voting