Ron Rivest — Complete Biography, History, & Inventions


Ron Rivest — Complete Biography, History, & Inventions

Key Points

  • In 1982, Ron Rivest co-founded RSA, famous for its SecureID product which provides increased security for networks through public-key cryptography.
  • Ron Rivest developed the Rivest Cipher or a “Ron Code,” an encryption algorithm. Multiple unique versions were produced.
  • He co-authored the book “Introduction to Algorithms”, which covers a wide range of algorithms in detail, but makes the information accessible to anyone with basic math or programming knowledge.

Ron Rivest

©Ronald L. Rivest, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Who is Ron Rivest?

Ron Rivest is a professor at MIT and a well-known cryptographer, computer scientist, writer, lecturer, and mathematician. He is a member of MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and a member of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). He was part of the team that developed RSA Encryption.

Early Life

Ron Rivest was born in Schenectady, New York on May 6, 1947. His father was an electrical engineer working at GE Research Labs and introduced Ron to the world of science. Ron took a computer programming class in 1964 as a junior in high school. This is where he was first able to work with code and computer languages. At the time, computers were very much in their infancy. This was the beginning of Ron’s fascination with this specific type of science and information structuring.

Quick Facts

Full Name
Ronald Linn Rivest
May 6, 1947
  • Turing Award
  • Paris Kanellakis Award
  • Marconi Prize
  • National Inventors Hall of Fam
Place of Birth
Schenectady, New York
Fields of Expertise
[“Mathematics”,”Computer Science”,”cryptography”]
Yale, Stanford, MIT, RSA Data Security
Public-key Cryptography, Rivest Cipher Variations, RSA Algorithms

After high school, Ron went to Yale as an undergraduate. He decided to major in mathematics over law or psychology. Ron was also able to take a few computer science courses from the engineering department because Yale did not have a dedicated computer science department in 1965. The math courses were a bit drab compared to the computer science projects. Math was mostly about theory while Ron was able to build and program his computer.

Ron graduated from Yale in 1969 and immediately went on to get his graduate degree. He joined the computer science department Ph.D. program at Stanford. This specific program had only been founded a few years earlier, so it was still very new and growing. He also worked in the Stanford AI lab. Luckily, this lab was DARPA funded and that gave him a deferment from the war in Vietnam. College allowed Ron to work with and learn from several future Turing award winners.

After earning his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Stanford in 1974, he pursued his post-doc at INRIA in Rocquencourt, France.


Ron Rivest’s career is focused on computer science, information security, mathematics, and education. Gaining knowledge in each area strengthens all of the others. He is a professor at MIT and he was one of the founders of RSA Security located in Bedford, Massachusetts.

RSA Data Security

RSA is an American computer and network security company focusing on encryption and encryption standards. Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman co-founded the company in 1982. RSA is most famous for its SecureID product. The SecureID provides increased security for your networks through public-key cryptography.


Ron Rivest is currently an Institute Professor at MIT. He has been working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1974.

What is Ron Rivest known for?

Ron Rivest is best known for his work in the field of cryptography. He has helped to create several cryptographs that are used for computer information security, algorithms, and voting security. For example, he has several versions of “RC” which originally stood for “Ron’s Code” or the “Rivest Cipher”. He also helped to create the RSA Algorithm along with Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman.

RSA Algorithm

The RSA algorithm is a public-key cryptosystem that is widely used for secure data transmission. Ron developed this algorithm with Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman. This algorithm provides confidentiality and security to your networks and information exchanges. It is one of the most secure and widely used systems for data transmission. It is a public-key cryptosystem. That means that anyone in the public has access to the encryption key, but the decryption key is private. Anyone can encode messages, but only someone with the private decryption key can decrypt.

Rivest Cipher

A Rivest Cipher or a “Ron Code” is an encryption algorithm developed by Ron Rivest. There are multiple versions, and each is unique to itself. The development of RC2 was sponsored by “Lotus”. They wanted a custom cipher what could be used in their “Lotus Notes” software. This code was produced in 1989 and was proprietary technology until 1996 when the source code was posted to the internet. It is presumed that the code was reverse-engineered.

RC4 was a streaming cipher that had remarkable simplicity and speed. Unfortunately, it also had several vulnerabilities and was rendered obsolete. RC5 is a symmetric-key block cipher with variable block size, key size, and several rounds. These components give the RC5 impressive security. RSA even offered ten thousand dollars to anyone that could break ciphertexts encrypted with RC5.

RC6 is an extension from RC5 and was developed by Ron Rivest, Matt Robshaw, Ray Sidney, and Yiqun Lisa Yin to meet the requirements of the Advanced Encryption Standard competition where they became one of the five finalists. It is very similar to the RC5, but it runs an extra multiplication operation that the RC5 does not.

Ron Rivest: Awards and Achievements

Ron Rivest has been awarded over the years with several honors and achievements. Arguably, the two most impressive awards are the Turing Award and the Marconi Prize.

Turing Award

Ron Rivest won the Turing award in 2002 along with Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman. These three men developed public-key cryptography. This system uses pairs of keys developed with cryptographic algorithms which are based on mathematical problems known as one-way functions. The Turing Award is generally recognized to be the highest distinction in computer science. It is often referred to as the Nobel prize of Computing. The award comes with one million dollars in prize money.

Marconi Prize

Ron Rivest received the 2007 Marconi Prize for his pioneering work in the field of cryptography, computer, and network security. The Marconi prize recipient receives a $100,000 honorarium and a sculpture.

Ron Rivest: Published Works and Books

Ron Rivest is regularly publishing articles and giving lectures. He co-authored a book titled “Introduction to Algorithms”, and he has quite the catalog reaching back to the 1970s.

Introduction to Algorithms

Along with co-authors Thomas H Cormen, Charles E Leiserson, and Clifford Stein, Ron Rivest contributed to the book “Introductions to Algorithms”. This book covers a wide range of algorithms in great detail, but it is accessible enough for all readers to understand. Each chapter is fairly self-contained and the lessons are simple enough to grasp by anyone with a basic understanding of math and programming. There is a second and third edition of the book. Each new edition includes new chapters and updates throughout.

Various Articles, Publications, and Talks

Ron Rivest is quite prolific with his articles and talks. His website has a very detailed archive of these works. He is still actively writing and speaking as a professor and cryptographer.

Ron Rivest Quotes

“I enjoyed the analysis of algorithms, it was sort of concrete. You can take a problem– as you know, you just sort of take a problem, try to devise a good algorithm for it, and figure out what the analysis is…But my preference is much more for concrete algorithms that work on problems that people care about. And so trying to take a problem that has some real-world impact, and find a good algorithm for it.”

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Ron Rivest?

Ron Rivest is an American cryptographer, computer scientist, and professor at MIT. He helped to develop several algorithms and cyphers used for computer information security.

Why did Ron Rivest invent RSA Cryptography?

Ron Rivest developed RSA Cryptography with Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman in late 1970 to increase computer information security through encryption.

When was Ron Rivest born?

Ron Rivest was born in Schenectady, New York on May 6th, 1947

What is Ron Rivest doing now?

Ron Rivest is an Institute Professor at MIT. He has been working with MIT since 1974 when he was a faculty member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He is currently looking into voting encryption. He is trying to implement a way to verify that your vote was counted while maintaining anonymity.

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