Grace Hopper Award Recognizes Contribution To Secure Computation
Written by Sue Gee   
Friday, 20 May 2022

Raluca Ada Popa, an associate professor of Computer Science at UC Berkeley, is the recipient of the 2021 ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award for the design of secure distributed systems. These systems protect confidentiality against attackers with full access to servers while maintaining full functionality.


The ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award is one of the four annual ACM Technical Awards and is worth $35,000, funded by Microsoft. It recognizes a single recent major technical or service contribution made by an individual aged 35 or younger.

The citation in respect of Raluca Ada Popa reads:

For contributions to the design of more practical distributed systems for secure computation over encrypted data that protect confidentiality against server attacks while maintaining full functionality and low performance overhead



Popa earned two Bachelors degrees, in Computer Science and Mathematics at MIT in 2009 and the next year earned her Masters of Engineering in Computer Science there. She stayed at MIT to do her PhD and her thesis on building practical systems that compute on encrypted data was awarded a George M. Sprowls Award for best MIT CS doctoral theses. Before joining UC Berkeley, where she is Robert E. and Beverly A. Brooks Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, she  did a one-year postdoc at ETH Zürich in the System Security group.

On her Berkeley home page she lists her interests as security, systems, and applied cryptography and at Berkely she co-founded and co-directs the RISELab, a lab aiming to build systems that are secure and intelligent. She has also cofounded two external security startups, PreVeil, formed in 2015, which she served as CTO and Opaque Systems, formed in 2021, of which she is President.

In 2019 Popa was among  list of 35 innovators under 35 compiled by MIT Technology Review. 

The ACM explains that Popa’s fundamental work has been in building secure systems that protect the confidentiality of data stored on remote servers. The breakthrough is that servers only need to store encrypted data, processing it without decrypting. which foils would-be hackers who see only encrypted data.

According to the ACM:

Working at the interface between cryptography and systems, she has combined theory with practical implementations, and demonstrated how to protect confidentiality against server attacks while maintaining full functionality and low performance overhead. Instead of just using prohibitively expensive theoretical techniques such as fully homomorphic encryption, Raluca combines specialized cryptographic, privacy-preserving constructs with a smart building-block system design approach that results in practical systems that can run important classes of applications over encrypted data, with low performance overheads.

Several mainstream commercial databases and systems have adopted the techniques she has pioneered. Her research will likely continue to have a substantial impact in how people think about, design, and build scalable and practical distributed systems for secure computation, storage, and communication.



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Last Updated ( Friday, 20 May 2022 )