Cynthia Dwork

Cynthia Dwork
Cynthia Dwork

Biography

With a long-standing commitment to applying computer science research to solve societal problems, Cynthia Dwork has made a significant impact on addressing hard-to-define and complicated issues including preserving individual privacy in data analysis and keeping digital communications secure. Dwork led the development of the foundations of differential privacy and has created tools that have changed how companies collect and process data. Prior to differential privacy, protection methods focused on avoiding specific classes of attacks based on previously identified flaws. However, Dwork saw the need for a definition of privacy that would be secure against all future attacks while still ensuring that much of the utility of the statistical data was preserved. Differential privacy avoids previous shortcomings by understanding the paradoxical nature of privacy where, on one hand, information about the data should be learned since that is the point of gathering statistics about the data in the first place, but also assuring that no additional information will be learned about an individual providing the data. Driven by the objective of giving a mathematical interpretation of this notion of privacy, she formalized what it means for the information released about a dataset to be nearly independent of whether any single person’s record was used. Differential privacy became the centerpiece for future research in statistical data privacy and has been deployed by Apple, Google, Microsoft, and the U.S. Census Bureau. Dwork also helped change the field of cryptography by creating nonmalleable encryption schemes where ciphertexts cannot be meaningfully modified without detection, and by creating encryption schemes, based on lattices, for which randomly chosen instances are as hard to break as the hardest instances. Lattice-based methods have become an indispensable tool for constructing secure cryptosystems for varied tasks, and they are the leading technology for postquantum cryptography.

A member of the U.S. National Academy of Science and the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery and multiple honorary societies, Dwork is the Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science with the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA, the Radcliffe Alumnae Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft Research.