The 2010 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science is presented to Shafrira Goldwasser for her fundamental contributions to the theoretical foundation of modern cryptography, which led to techniques that can guarantee secure access to the Internet.
Goldwasser is one of the founders of modern cryptography, a field that has long since left behind the world of simple ciphers and now relies on complex mathematical processes to encode anything from secret messages to the transfer of financial information on the Internet. Among her many contributions, Goldwasser is perhaps best known for figuring out how to test if information has been compromised without revealing the contents of that information. She and her colleagues devised what is called a "zero-knowledge" proof, in which no knowledge of the original information need be shared.for example, proving that one has a valid credit card without giving out its numbers.
Goldwasser earned her B.S. in mathematics from Carnegie Mellon in 1979 and her Ph.D. in computer science from UC-Berkeley in 1983. She took her first job at MIT and continues to teach there, as well as at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
Modern cryptography maintains security by relying on how difficult it is for computers to accomplish certain mathematical tasks, such as factoring very large numbers. Codes that the most sophisticated computer would take years or even decades to decode can be declared essentially unbreakable. Goldwasser has incorporated the fields of randomness and complexity to broaden the mathematical understanding of what is and is not possible to compute. Goldwasser and her collaborator Silvio Micali helped define a variety of possible attacks on any code and devised new tools for its protection. In addition to zero-knowledge proofs, she has developed new ways to test whether a number is prime, and has extensively studied why certain math problems that develop in real life cannot be easily solved by computers, even when one only seeks an approximation. Her contributions in this latter field have changed the way scientists study what a computer can and cannot do.
Goldwasser's awards include the Godel Prize in Theoretical Computer Science, the RSA Award in Mathematics, the ACM's Grace Murray Hopper Award, and the NSF's Presidential Young Investigator Award and Faculty Award for Women.