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Hacking the Hacker by Roger A. Grimes

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13Profile: Martin Hellman

One of the things I’ve learned when talking to the best people in a particular field is that they tend to be good at multiple things. They aren’t just good at the thing for which they are known. They usually have intense hobbies they are obsessed with and are trying to “hack” a lot of problems, many of which have nothing to do with why they are famous. Martin Hellman, one of the original creators of public key cryptography, is a great example. While still being one of the world’s best cryptographers and thinking about how to solve the latest cryptography problems, he’s also a guy who likes to soar gliders, improve marriages, and stop nuclear wars … not necessarily in that order.

Hellman is famous for being the co‐inventor of public key cryptography in 1976, along with his colleagues Whitfield Diffie and Ralph Merkle. The November 1976 paper that publicly announced everything to the world was called “New Directions in Cryptography” (https://ee.stanford.edu/~hellman/publications/24.pdf). The resulting cipher algorithm became known as Diffie‐Hellman Key Exchange, but Hellman prefers to call it Diffie‐Hellman‐Merkle, and did so during our interview. About a year after “New Directions in Cryptography,” building upon Diffie and Hellman’s previous work, Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman, all of MIT, created the RSA algorithm, and with their subsequent company’s marketing efforts, public key cryptography took the world by storm, forever encasing ...

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