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Q&A: Finding New Directions in Cryptography


Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman

Credit: Richard Morgenstein

Like many developments we now take for granted in the history of the Internet, public key cryptography—which provides the ability to communicate securely over an insecure channel—followed an indirect path into the world. When ACM A.M. Turing Award recipients Martin Hellman and Whitfield Diffie began their research, colleagues warned against pursuing cryptography, a field then dominated by the U.S. government. Their 1976 paper "New Directions in Cryptography" not only blazed a trail for other academic researchers, but introduced the ideas of public-key distribution and digital signatures.

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