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Meet Whit Diffie, the man who invented public key cryptography and brought encryption to the masses

Whitfield Diffie, winner of the 2015 Turing Prize, speaks during the 7th Internet Security Conference (ISC).
Whitfield Diffie, winner of the 2015 Turing Prize, speaks during the 7th Internet Security Conference (ISC).
Photo: VCG/Visual China Group/Getty Images

Longtime tech journalist Steven Levy’s new book, Facebook: The Inside Story, details how Mark Zuckerberg transformed a tasteless dorm room social networking experiment into the world’s biggest social networking business. In honor of that release, we thought we’d share an excerpt of an earlier Levy book, Crypto, about a man who ran in the opposite direction of Facebook’s data exploitation and privacy breaches. This is the story of Whit Diffie, who transformed how we think of encryption, paving the way for the digital security we enjoy today.

Bailey Whitfield Diffie, born June 5, 1944, was always an independent sort. As one early friend remarked, “The kid had an alternative lifestyle at age five.” Diffie didn’t read until he was 10 years old. There was no question of disability, he simply preferred that his parents read to him, which seemingly they did, quite patiently. Finally, in the fifth grade, Diffie spontaneously worked his way through a tome called The Space Cat, and immediately progressed to the Oz books. …

About

Steven Levy

Writing for Wired, Used to edit Backchannel here. Just wrote Facebook: The Inside Story.

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