Professor Atallah’s Work Stands the Test of Time

Writer(s): Jesica E. Hollinger

Mikhail Atallah, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science, was awarded the 2015 ACM CCS Test of Time Award for his paper published 10 years ago in the ACM’sAtallah Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS). 

The paper, titled “Dynamic and Efficient Key Management for Access Hierarchies”, was published in 2005 with fellow authors and winners Marina Blanton, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at Notre Dame University, and Keith B. Frikken, a software engineer at Google.  Atallah was the PhD advisor for both Blanton and Frikken.

The award is given to a paper that is published 10 years ago in the ACM CCS conference and is regarded as outstanding based on its significant relevance in today’s scholarship. Nominations are solicited from the 2015 ACM CCS Program Committee. Nominated papers are considered by the program chairs, in conjunction with the ACM Steering Committee Chair and the ACM SIGSAC Chair. Final selection is based on their original contribution and enduring impact on the field.

Committee members who nominated Professor Atallah’s paper noted that his paper has received 352 citations and has solved the key hierarchy problem in a very elegant way. The solution and its construction are still valid and used today and his paper is a building block in many other constructions for other researchers.

According to one nominator, while the paradigm had been introduced much earlier in cryptography, Professor Atallah’s paper brought the cryptographic enforcement of access hierarchies to a new level. 

One of the committee members said that his paper contributed (for the first time) to a cryptographically sound formal security definition.  Previous work rooted in the security literature had used heuristic security notions.  His paper made the clear distinction between the attacker’s two goals of recovering keys or even distinguishing keys at random—only the first, weaker notion had been considered before, but the second notion is satisfactory in the cryptographic literature.  The security notions are the "right ones” he added. 

Atallah's work formally investigated a class of very natural key-derivation schemes and formally proves their security in the novel formal model.  It also provides algorithmic insight into achieving more efficient schemes and into space/time tradeoffs. Authors of different backgrounds ranging from algorithms to computer security to theoretical cryptography cite his paper and his work unifies different streams of work in those fields. 

Professor Atallah has received many awards during his career, including the prestigious Purdue Outstanding Commercialization Award in 2013 for Purdue University Faculty.  The award is given annually to a faculty member in recognition of outstanding contributions to, and success with, commercializing Purdue research discoveries. Additionally, he is a Fellow of the ACM and IEEE, won the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award early in his career, was selected for Purdue’s Book of Great Teachers, was named Outstanding Teacher of the College of Science, won the Purdue ACM Outstanding CS Instructor Award four times, and was recognized by his alma mater with the Distinguished Alumnus Award by the American University in Beirut.