ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award
USA - 2021
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
Dr. Raluca Popa has made a substantial impact on the design and building of scalable and practical systems for secure computation and the protection of sensitive data.
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.
Popa designed a number of prototype systems, in different application domains, that empirically demonstrate the effectiveness of a whole systems based approach to private computation. In Opaque, DORY, Metal, CryptDB, BlindBox, and Arx, she showed how the utilization of encryption schemes that efficiently support a few carefully identified primitive operations enables performant SQL queries and filtering on encrypted databases and packets. For "cooperative learning," the Helen and Senate prototypes she proposed enables multiple organizations to collaboratively train a machine-learning model or perform data analytics over their combined encrypted data. In Delphi and MUSE, machine learning models execute on the client's input, without revealing the data to the model provider or leaking the model to the client.
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.