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British Mathematicians Honored by IEEE for Technology Discovery That Made Online Shopping Possible

100th Milestone Dedicated for Significant Technical Achievement in IEEE Areas of Interest

6 October 2010 – The ground breaking discovery that paved the way for most of today’s online transactions was recognized and honored by IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional association, at a ceremony in Cheltenham yesterday.

A British team of scientists based at GCHQ developed the first iteration of what is now commonly known as Public Key Cryptography back in the early 1970s, but the invention was considered so important militarily that it was classified and kept secret until 1997. In 1976 an American team from Stanford University also published similar theories. A year later a team from MIT took American thinking a stage further and the RSA algorithm, which now under pins billions of internet transactions every day, was born.

IEEE, whose Milestones in Electrical Engineering and Computing Program has given scientific and engineering accomplishments recognition all over the world, recognized the work of the British trio, Clifford Cocks, James Ellis and Malcolm Williamson, as the prestigious 100th IEEE Milestone. A public plaque was unveiled at the Pittsville Pump Rooms by the mayor of Cheltenham Borough Council, Anne Regan, and local MP Martin Horwood, Clifford Cocks and Brenda Ellis, widow of the late James Ellis, attended the event with Dr Ralph Benjamin, GCHQ Chief Scientist at the time and a specially invited audience.



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