International Association for Cryptologic Research

Prof. Scott Vanstone, FRSC, FIACR, 1947-2014

Scott Alexander Vanstone passed away on March 2, 2014, at his home in Campbellville, Canada.

Scott was born in 1947. He received his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1974, working under the supervision of Professor Ron Mullin in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization (C&O) at the University of Waterloo. He was then a Professor of Mathematics at St. Jerome's University and Waterloo's C&O department, until his retirement in 2009. He was appointed Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo in 2009.

Scott's early work was in combinatorial design theory. In the 1980's he started working in cryptography. One of his first contributions, with Blake, Fuji-Hara and Mullin, was an improved algorithm for computing discrete logarithms in characteristic-two finite fields. This work inspired Coppersmith to devise his famous L[1/3] algorithm in 1984. He also designed, with Agnew and Mullin, hardware architectures for implementing arithmetic in characteristic-two fields.

Scott became enthralled with elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) after hearing Victor Miller's talk at Crypto '85. In the subsequent years, he devoted much of his research to the security analysis and efficient implementation of ECC. Among his contributions was the Weil pairing attack (with Menezes and Okamoto) to efficiently transport some instances of the elliptic curve discrete logarithm problem to instances of the ordinary discrete logarithm problem in extensions of the underlying finite field. With Gallant and Lambert, he showed how efficiently-computable endomorphisms could be used to accelerate Pollard's rho attack on the elliptic curve discrete logarithm problem.

On the efficiency front, Scott developed algorithms and protocols that are especial well-suited for implementing ECC in environments where processor speed, bandwidth, or power consumption is severely constrained. With Gallant and Lambert, he developed an innovative technique for point multiplication on elliptic curves that have efficiently-computable endomorphisms. With Menezes and Qu he developed a key agreement protocol which was later standardized by IEEE, ANSI, NIST, ISO, and IETF. The "PV signature scheme", jointly developed with Leon Pintsov, is an efficient short-signature scheme with message recovery that has been standardized by ANSI and used by Pitney Bowes in their design of digital postal marks. Scott also co-designed a comprehensive and efficient implicit certification scheme which enables derivation and verification of a purported public key of the certificate holder from the certificate, thereby obviating the need to include this information explicitly into the certificate itself and saving bandwidth.

Scott played an instrumental role in commercializing ECC. With Gord Agnew and Ron Mullin, he co-founded Certicom Corp. in 1985. He introduced ECC to several standards organizations including IEEE and ANSI, and played an active role in the development of the first ECC standards -- ANSI X9.62 and IEEE P1363-2000. In the early 1990's he started evangelizing the benefits of ECC to numerous commercial entities, resulting in the adoption of ECC technology by companies such as Motorola, Pitney Bowes, and Research in Motion. Scott worked tirelessly for Certicom over the years, and served in numerous capacities including Chief Cryptographer and EVP for Strategic Technologies. He was also a member of Certicom's Board of Directors from its inception in 1985 until 2009 when Certicom was acquired by Research in Motion.

Over the years, Scott served the crypto community in several capacities. He co-founded the Data Encryption Group at the University of Waterloo, which evolved into the Centre for Applied Cryptographic Research. At Waterloo, he supervised seven PhD students and ten postdoctoral fellows in the area of cryptography. He was co-author of the popular reference books "Handbook of Applied Cryptography" (with Menezes and van Oorschot) and "Guide to Elliptic Curve Cryptography" (with Hankerson and Menezes), and an Editor-in-Chief of the journal Designs, Codes and Cryptography from 1990 to 1999. He co-founded the annual workshop on Elliptic Curve Cryptography in 1997. He was program chair of Crypto '90, and served on the IACR's Board of Directors from 1990 to 1996.

Scott held the NSERC/Pitney Bowes Industrial Research Chair in Cryptography at the University of Waterloo from 1998 to 2008. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Academy of Sciences in 1998. He received the Ontario Premier's Catalyst Award for Lifetime Achievement in Innovation in 2009. In 2011, he was elected a fellow of the International Association for Cryptographic Research (IACR).

Scott was an extremely generous, patient, tolerant and kind person. He was always positive and encouraging, and was an inspiration to his students, and to countless researchers and practitioners working in cryptography. He lived life to the fullest and, with his beloved wife Sherry Shannon-Vanstone, hosted many memorable parties at their house in Campbellville. He was an extraordinary scholar, teacher and mentor, and, above all, a dear friend. We all will miss him very much.

- Gord Agnew, Guang Gong, Alfred Menezes, Ron Mullin, Doug Stinson (University of Waterloo)