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Leonard Adleman

RSA Cryptography

U.S. Patent No. 4,405,829
Inducted in 2018
Born Dec. 31, 1945

RSA Cryptography is the world’s most widely used public-key cryptography method for securing communication on the Internet. Instrumental to the growth of e-commerce, RSA is used in almost all Internet-based transactions to safeguard sensitive data such as credit card numbers.

Introduced in 1977 by MIT colleagues Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman, RSA—its name derived from the initials of their surnames—is a specific type of public-key cryptography, or PKC, innovated in 1976 by Whitfield Diffie, Martin Hellman, and Ralph Merkle. Intrigued by their research, Rivest, with Shamir and Adleman, developed a cryptosystem to enable secure message encoding and decoding between communicating parties. As Rivest and Shamir worked to develop an unbreakable key system, Adleman tried to break each one, doing so 42 times before the trio achieved success.

Unlike previous methods requiring securely-exchanged keys to encrypt and decrypt messages, RSA provided a method for encryption and decryption without both parties needing a shared secret key. RSA could also mark messages with a digital signature, and allowed originators to create messages intelligible only to intended recipients; third parties intercepting such transmissions would find them indecipherable.

Adleman, a native of San Francisco, earned his B.A. in mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, where he went on to earn his Ph.D. in computer science. A distinguished professor at the University of Southern California, Adleman is also known for his work in number theory and as the father of the field of DNA computation. He has received numerous awards, including the 2002 ACM Turing Award with Rivest and Shamir.

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