Geek(s) Of The Week: Whitfield Diffie & Mark Hellman

Geek(s) Of The Week: Whitfield Diffie & Mark Hellman

Way back in 2010, we featured a trio of famous cryptographers as a GOTW. Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman are the creators of the RSA encryption algorithm. Today, we’ll feature another group of geeks responsible for a similar contribution. Whitfield Diffie and Mark Hellman are the namesake of the Diffie-Hellman key-exchange algorithm, which is a popular method used on the Internet. In fact, if you’ve used Apple Pay, you’ve used Diffie-Hellman.

Hellman went to work for IBM in the late-60s. Soon after, he became an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and later at Stanford University, where he still works. In addition to his contributions to cryptography, Hellman has been a long time advocate of computer privacy. Diffie also worked for Stanford but as a programmer in their artificial intelligence laboratory. Later, he went on to work for Sun Microsystems, ICANN, and eventually Cyrptomathic.

The two men met in the 1970s and authored a paper on asymmetric key exchange in 1976. It was titled New Directions in Cryptography. Together, they criticized the DES algorithm which was widely adopted by the US government, as they were advocates of putting the security in the hands of the citizens. Their vision was to enable anyone, not just government agencies, to use encryption to secure data. At the time, the world governments were largely against this.

The pair received the Turing award in 2015 for their groundbreaking research and contributions to the field of cryptography. Their other accolades and awards are too many to list here, but clearly… these two geeks had a major influence on modern data security. Additionally, both men are featured in the Computer History Museum. What’s geekier than that?

About the Author

avatar KALE: A geek who works in the IT Security field and lives in Dallas, TX. He is also a music geek who has played in several local bands. Previous to his IT career, Kale worked as a photojournalist. He brings technical advice and artistic counterpoint to the podcast.