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The RSA Conference Awards, established in 1998, were created to acknowledge the outstanding contributions of individuals and organizations in the field of cryptography, public policy, information security, and security humanitarianism. This year, computer science professor Rafail Ostrovsky has been awarded the 2018 RSA Conference Award for excellence in Mathematics prize, which recognizes innovation and ongoing contributions to the field of cryptography. “This year’s RSA Conference Awards winners have shown what it takes to be true leaders and role models in humanitarian service, mathematics, public policy and cyber security. These recipients follow a long line of award winners that includes leaders from both the public and private sectors,” the official RSA Conference statement reads.

“I feel humbled and honored [to receive this award]”, Ostrovsky commented. “This award has been given to ‘giants’ in the field, and only 26 people worldwide have received it over all the years since its inception.”

Ostrovsky was recognized by the RSA Conference for his work on “Novel Models and Protocol Notions for Secure Computation Tasks”, where he essentially focuses on developing tools that allow for secure computations while at the same time protecting individual privacy. “With the advent of cloud computing, more and more of our personal and private data is vulnerable to compromise,” Ostrovsky said. “My goal is to allow personalization and cloud storage and computing with strong privacy guarantees.”

Ostrovsky’s interest in the topic stems from his background in cryptography and its many applications, given the rapid pace at which technology is advancing. “As our entire lives become digitized, ranging from smart grid to tele-medicine, it is clear that more and more of our preferences, habits and opinions get captured,” Ostrovsky said. “While this can assist and make our lives better, it can also lead to invasion of privacy. How we can enhance our lives with digital technology, yet still guarantee personal privacy, is something I care deeply about.”

In the long run, Ostrovsky hopes his work will continue to make a significant impact on people’s lives in terms of guaranteeing personal privacy and cybersecurity, as well as other applicable areas. “[We’re living] in a very interesting time where many highly abstract papers in cryptography make significant impact in our daily lives just a few years later,” Ostrovsky said. “For example, one of the topics I worked on, ‘Succinct non-interactive arguments’ (SNARKS) – was thought to be a [purely] theoretical construction. All of a sudden, SNARKS are being used inside digital currencies. Specifically, one of my works on SNARKS (from the Theory of Cryptography Conference, 2013) is cited as a building block of Zerocash (Zcash) currency, which now has over a billion dollars already mined and in use.”

Ostrovsky was recognized at the 2018 RSA Conference in San Francisco, which was held on April 16-20. Read more about the conference awards and Ostrovsky’s work here.