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Who, Not What, is the ‘R’ in RSA?

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By: Olivia

January 25, 2017

The other day, I took to Cybrary’s search feature in hopes of finding information on an inventor of the RSA public-key cryptosystem, and when nothing turned up, not only was I utterly disappointed, but it made me wonder why we do not dedicate more of our interest to influential individuals within the field of cyber security.cryptographyIt also made me wonder why there are so many ‘household’ names in the general tech industry, but so few it seems, in cyber security specifically.The person I’m referring to, in addition to being an Inventor of the RSA public-key cryptosystem, is also a Founder of RSA Data Security with extensive experience in cryptographic design and cryptanalysis, and has published numerous papers in these areas. Likewise, he has worked extensively in the areas of computer algorithms, machine learning and election integrity.Not too bad of a resume.Know who he is yet? No, okay well more clues.Currently, he’s a Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a leader of the Cryptography and Information Security research group within MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He received a B.A. in mathematics from Yale University in 1969 and a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University in 1974.Give up?This important and accomplished man is Ron Rivest.He, along with Adi Shamir and Len Adleman, are the men behind RSA.Rivest specifically invented the symmetric key encryption algorithms RC2, RC4, RC5. The RC in this case stands for either ‘Rivest Cipher’ or ‘Ron’s Code’ depending on who you ask.RC4 is said to be the world’s most widely used stream cipher.If you’re curious how they work, I’ll give you some insight. But first, vocabulary. ron_rivestA cipher (or cypher) “is an algorithm for performing encryption or decryption—a series of well-defined steps that can be followed as a procedure.”Keystream “is a stream of random or pseudorandom characters that are combined with a plaintext message to produce an encrypted message.”Stream cipher “is a symmetric key cipher where plaintext digits are combined with a pseudorandom cipher digit stream (keystream). In a stream cipher, each plaintext digit is encrypted one at a time with the corresponding digit of the keystream, to give a digit of the ciphertext stream.”Block cipher “is a deterministic algorithm operating on fixed-length groups of bits, called blocks, with an unvarying transformation that is specified by a symmetric key.”Now for the RC ciphers.RC2 is a 64-bit block cipher with a variable size key.RC4 generates a keystream. In order to do so, the cipher makes use of a secret internal state, which consists of two parts:
  • A permutation of all 256 possible bytes.
  • Two 8-bit index-pointers.
RC5  is a symmetric key-block cipher and has a variable block size (32, 64 or 128 bits), key size (0 to 2040 bits) and number of rounds (0 to 255). The original suggested choice of parameters were a block size of 64 bits, a 128-bit key and 12 rounds.Are you confused?Understandably so. This topic is complicated without proper attention, but interesting and useful for cyber security professionals nonetheless.If Cryptography is something you’re interested in, then you may want to follow this year’s RSA conference.It’s being held February 13-17th at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. Typically, the event draws over 45,000 attendees per year, making it the world’s largest provider of security events.rsa_2017In the conference’s mission statement, they cite that their goal is to “connect you with the people and insights that will empower you to stay ahead of cyberthreats.”Among those speaking at this year’s RSA Conference, ‘Where the World Talks Cyber Security,’ Rivest is a keynote speaker as a part of the Cryptography Panel.For those who plan on attending, be sure you fan girl for the rest of us, because Rivest deserves recognition from the community. Just make sure you brush up on your crypto knowledge first.Luckily, that is something Cybrary can help with. The Cryptography Skill Certification Course explains the basic principles behind the practice of Cryptography both from an academic perspective as well as the practitioners’ perspective from the field.There’s a particular focus on encryption and decryption functionality, the strengths and weaknesses of various algorithms, digital signatures, public-key cryptography, and industry best practices. To help you fully grasp the concepts of Cryptography, the course teaches concepts, tools and techniques involved, with particular notice given to confidentiality, integrity and authentication.Until 2/12/17, use code CRYPTO on Cryptography Fundamentals or Intermediate Cryptography to earn the Micro Certification FREE.Prepare for a Ron Rivest run-in, or just learn a cool, new skill.Oh, and don’t forget to say hi to members of the Cybrary team walking around at RSA. They’ll love to hear what you’ve learned on the site.olivia2Olivia Lynch (Cybrary_Olivia) is the Marketing Manager at Cybrary. Like many of you, she is just getting her toes wet in the field of cyber security. A firm believer that the pen is mightier than the sword, Olivia considers corny puns and an honest voice essential to any worthwhile blog. 
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