Let's Encrypt Awarded the Levchin Prize
Written by Sue Gee   
Friday, 22 April 2022

This year's recipient of the $10,000 prize for significant advances in the practice of cryptography and its use in real-world systems, is Let's Encrypt. Its Executive Director, Josh Aas accepted the award at this month's 2022 Real-World Crypto conference.



Since 2016, the Levchin Prize has been awarded annually to celebrate recent advances that have had a major impact on the practice of cryptography and its use in real-world systems. Established by the Ukrainian-American Internet entrepreneur Max Levchin, founder and CEO of financial services technology company, Affirm and one of the original co-founders of PayPal, the only stipulation for the prize is the winner's attendance at the Real World Cryptography (RWC) conference for its presentation ceremony.

This year's RWC Symposium was held in Amsterdam on April 13–15, 2022 as a hybrid event with remote attendance possible both for presenters and attendees. Anybody can be nominated for the prize and members of the RWC Steering Committee select up to two winners from among those nominated.

We first covered the Levchin Prize in 2018 when there were two recipients, Hugo Krawczyk of the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center and the OpenSSL team. See our report for more details of the award, including a video in which Max Levchin explains its background and rationale.

Let's Encrypt is a non-profit certificate authority run by Internet Security Research Group that provides X.509 certificates for Transport Layer Security encryption at no charge. It is these certificates that are required for a website to be deemed safe and hosting services typically charge upwards of $100 per annum. Being able to set up encryption on websites easily and without the usual hassle using Let's Encrypt enabled websites to overcome the obstacles that threatened to curtail their operation when the switch to htpps was moreorless mandated.

Dan Boneh, Professor in Applied Cryptography and Computer Security at Stanford University and a member of the RWC Steering Committee stated:

"We are thrilled to award the Levchin Prize to Let's Encrypt. Thanks to Let's Encrypt nearly every person browsing the Web experiences the benefits of cryptography."

In response Josh Aas thanked the RWC Steering Committee and Max Levchin for this recognition and went on to reveal that Let’s Encrypt is currently used by more than 280 million websites, issuing between two and three million certificates per day. He also explained that the team behind it started working on it in 2013 saying:

Let’s Encrypt ultimately came from a group of people thinking about a pretty daunting challenge. The billions of people living increasingly large portions of their lives online deserved better privacy and security, but in order to do that we needed to convince hundreds of millions of websites to switch to HTTPS. Not only did we want them to make that change, we wanted most of them to make the change within the next three to five years.

His speech also disclosed the remarkably small scale of the operation:

Today there are just 11 engineers working on Let’s Encrypt, as well as a small team handling fundraising, communication, and administrative tasks. That’s not a lot of people for an organization serving hundreds of millions of websites in every country on the globe, subject to a fairly intense set of industry rules, audits, and high expectations for security and reliability. The team is preparing to serve as many as 1 billion websites. When that day comes to pass the team will be larger, but probably not much larger. Efficiency is important to us, for a couple of reasons. The first is principle - we believe it’s our obligation to do the most good we can with every dollar entrusted to us. The second reason is necessity - it’s not easy to raise money, and we need to do our best to accomplish our mission with what’s available to us.

lets encrypt

More Information

Let’s Encrypt Receives the Levchin Prize for Real-World Cryptography

Levchin Prize website

Nomination Form

Related Articles

Levchin Prize for Real-World Cryptography

Let's Encrypt Now In Public Beta (2015)


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Last Updated ( Friday, 22 April 2022 )