28 December 1950 |
Prestbury, Cheshire, United Kingdom
|Known for||RSA encryption|
Clifford Christopher Cocks, CB, (born 28 December 1950 ) is a British mathematician and cryptographer at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). He discovered the widely used encryption algorithm now commonly known as RSA, about three years before it was independently rediscovered by Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman at MIT. He has not been generally recognised for this achievement because his work was classified information, and therefore not released to the public at the time.
Life and work
In 1968, Cocks won Silver at the International Mathematical Olympiad while at Manchester Grammar School. Cocks went on to study mathematics as an undergraduate at King's College, Cambridge, and was then a postgraduate student at the University of Oxford, where he specialised in number theory, but left to join CESG, an arm of GCHQ, in September 1973.
At GCHQ, Cocks was told about James H. Ellis' "non-secret encryption", an idea which had been suggested in the late 1960s but never successfully implemented. Cocks was intrigued, and in 1973 he developed what later became known as the RSA encryption algorithm. GCHQ appears not to have been able to find a way to use the algorithm, and in any case, treated it as classified information. In 1977 the algorithm was independently rediscovered and published by Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman, who named it after their initials, but Cocks' prior achievement remained secret until 1997.
In 2001, Cocks developed one of the first secure identity based encryption (IBE) schemes, based on assumptions about quadratic residues in composite groups. The Cocks IBE scheme is not widely used in practice due to its high degree of ciphertext expansion. However, it is currently one of the few IBE schemes which do not use bilinear pairings, and rely for security on more well-studied mathematical problems.
As of 2003[update], Clifford Cocks held the post of Chief Mathematician at GCHQ. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 2008 (the citation describes him as "Counsellor, Foreign and Commonwealth Office"), and was awarded an honorary degree from Bristol University in 2008.
In 2015 Cocks was elected to fellow of the Royal Society.
- "New Year Honours—United Kingdom" (PDF). The London Gazette. 2007-12-28. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
- "Clifford Cocks Oration". Bristol University. Archived from the original on 2008-09-15. Retrieved 2008-11-04.
- "Dr Clifford Cocks CB". Bristol University. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
- "Honorary degrees awarded". Bristol University. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
- Cocks, Clifford (2001). "An Identity Based Encryption Scheme Based on Quadratic Residues". Cryptography and Coding. Lecture Notes in Computer Science 2260. Springer. pp. 360–363. doi:10.1007/3-540-45325-3_32.
- New York Times article on GCHQ's disclosure of the work of Cocks and Williamson
- Wired article on public key cryptography at GCHQ
- James Ellis' account of the invention of non-secret encryption at the Wayback Machine (archived June 10, 2003)
- Cocks' November 1973 internal GCHQ note on his discovery
- U.S. Patent 6,731,755
- Clifford Cocks's results at the International Mathematical Olympiad