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Whitfield Diffie picture, image, poster
Whitfield Diffie

Date of birth : 1944-06-05
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Washington D.C., U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2011-12-21

Bailey Whitfield 'Whit' Diffie (born June 5, 1944) is an American cryptographer and one of the pioneers of public-key cryptography.

Diffie and Martin Hellman's paper New Directions in Cryptography was published in 1976. It introduced a radically new method of distributing cryptographic keys, that went far toward solving one of the fundamental problems of cryptography, key distribution. It has become known as Diffie–Hellman key exchange. The article also seems to have stimulated the almost immediate public development of a new class of encryption algorithms, the asymmetric key algorithms.

After a long career at Sun Microsystems, where he became a Sun Fellow, Diffie is currently serving as the Vice President for Information Security and Cryptography at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and a visiting scholar at the Freeman Spogli Institute's Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

In the early 1970s, Diffie worked with Martin Hellman to develop the fundamental ideas of dual-key, or public key, cryptography. They published their results in 1976—solving one of the fundamental problems of cryptography, key distribution—and essentially broke the monopoly that had previously existed where government entities controlled cryptographic technology and the terms on which other individuals could have access to it.

"From the moment Diffie and Hellman published their findings..., the National Security Agency's crypto monopoly was effectively terminated. ... Every company, every citizen now had routine access to the sorts of cryptographic technology that not many years ago ranked alongside the atom bomb as a source of power."The solution has become known as Diffie–Hellman key exchange.

Diffie self-identifies as an iconoclast. He has stated that he "was always concerned about individuals, an individual's privacy as opposed to Government secrecy."

Diffie and Susan Landau's book Privacy on the Line was published in 1998 on the politics of wiretapping and encryption. An updated and expanded edition appeared in 2007.


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