minutia press.
RSA public key talk

This year at FCRC, the Turing Award was given to Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman for their famous "RSA" public-key encryption scheme. Their clever and elegant result has affected all of us, and their talk was one of the best I've ever heard.

In turn, each author spoke: one about the past of number theory and the roots of the RSA scheme; one about the present state of encryption and RSA; one about the future of encryption.

One of their themes was that RSA brought the study of encryption and cryptography into the public eye, where before it had been conducted in secret. By having a scheme survive public scrutiny and attack, we are all better off and can enjoy stronger protection than if research on cryptograpy is kept secret (so to speak).

The RSA scheme is based on the apparent yet unproved difficulty of factoring a large number. Take two very large primes, and these form the private key. Their product, a large composite number forms the public key. It's easy to go from private to public: just do multiplication. However, going from public to private requires factoring a large number---something not easily done.

I hope the ACM digital librayr puts the lecture out for public view. If that happens, I'll post about its location.