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2017 Levchin Prize for Real World Cryptography

Max Levchin

Originally published by Max Levchin on LinkedIn: 2017 Levchin Prize for Real World Cryptography

Today, it is an honor to award the second annual Prize for Real-World Cryptography.

In October of 2014, I invited a few friends, practitioners and experts in cryptography to dinner to discuss the challenges facing cryptography.

We also brainstormed the best way to promote applied, real-world cryptography and its applications in digital security, as well as aid in broader public awareness of the importance of both. It was at that dinner where the Prize for Real World Cryptography was conceived.

And today, I am proud that we will award for the second year, two well deserved recipients the prize for their contributions and developments in the field of crypto.

Joan Daemen is awarded the 2017 Levchin prize for his contributions to the development of the AES block cipher and the SHA3 hash function. Both have had a remarkable real-world impact on the practice of cryptography.

The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the workhorse of almost all modern encryption systems. AES has been deployed widely in almost every system that needs to protect data, from financial transactions, to medical data, to protecting intellectual property.

It has even been implemented in many modern processors via the AES-NI instructions. This highly successful cipher was designed by Joan Daemen and his collaborator Vincent Rijmen.

Joan then went on to design a modern hash function, Keccak, based on the elegant sponge construction. His design was adopted by NIST and became the new SHA3 cryptographic hash function.

SHA3 is much easier to use, compared to previous hash functions, and is a significant contribution to real-world cryptography.

Moxie Marlinspike and Trevor Perrin are awarded the 2017 Levchin Prize for their development of the Signal protocol used to encrypt messages in communication systems.

This protocol has been implemented into WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Google Allo, encrypting the conversations of more than a billion people worldwide. 

The Signal protocol uses triple Diffie-Hellman, and a double ratchet mechanism to provide strong forward-secrecy.

It is this massive deployment of an elegant encryption protocol for which Moxie and Trevor are awarded the Levchin prize.

I am also proud to unveil the new Trophy, created by designer, Ryan Rivas. The inspiration for the trophy is loosely based on the Jefferson Disk wheel cypher and a Cryptex, coined from the fictional writings of Dan Brown of Leonardo da Vinci.

While serving as George Washington's secretary of state from 1790-1793, Thomas Jefferson devised an ingenious and secure method to encode and decode messages: the wheel cipher.

Codes were an essential part of his correspondence because European postmasters routinely opened and read all diplomatic and any suspect letters passing through their command.

Jefferson's wheel cipher consisted of twenty-six cylindrical wooden pieces, each threaded onto an iron spindle. The letters of the alphabet were inscribed on the edge of each wheel in a random order. Turning these wheels, words could be scrambled and unscrambled.

My idea was to create an award that honored the practice of cryptography and the modern foundation of the Prize. I wanted to create an interactive object that itself was a hidden code waiting to be solved, using modern manufacturing practices, materials and design language.

For those of you following the current geopolitical and corporate security issues in the news, cryptography has never been more important or more relevant than it is right now. I hope this prize both honors your work and contributions but also encourages new research, developments and breakthroughs.

Congratulations again to this year's recipients.

For more information on the Levchin Prize, visit: Levchinprize.com