World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Whitfield Diffie

Whitfield Diffie
Whitfield Diffie
Born (1944-06-05) June 5, 1944
Washington D.C
Nationality United States
Fields Cryptography
Institutions Stanford University AI lab
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology (B.S., 1965)
Known for Diffie–Hellman key exchange
Notable awards Kanellakis Award (1996)
Marconi Prize (2000)
Hamming Medal (2010)
Computer History Museum Fellow (2011) [1]

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.[2]

After a long career at Sun Microsystems, where he became a Sun Fellow, Diffie served for two and a half years as Vice President for Information Security and Cryptography at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (2010-2012), a visiting scholar (2009-2010) and an affiliate (2010-2012)[3] at the Freeman Spogli Institute's Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.


  • Background and career 1
  • Public key cryptography 2
  • Philosophical leanings 3
  • Published works 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Background and career

Diffie was born in New York City to Bailey Wallys Diffie, who taught Iberian history and culture at City College of New York, and Justine Louise Whitfield, a writer and scholar.[4]

His interest in cryptography began at "age 10 when his father, a professor, brought home the entire crypto shelf of the City College Library in New York."[4]

He received a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965. From 1965-1969, he worked for the MITRE Corporation. He did his graduate studies at Stanford University. He received an honorary doctorate from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 1992.[5]

In 1975-76, Diffie and Martin Hellman criticized the NBS proposed Data Encryption Standard, largely because its 56-bit key length was too short to prevent Brute-force attack. An audio recording survives of their review of DES at Stanford in 1976 with Dennis Branstad of NBS and representatives of the National Security Agency.[6] Their concern was well-founded: subsequent history has shown not only that NSA actively intervened with IBM and NBS to shorten the key size, but also that the short key size enabled exactly the kind of massively parallel key crackers that Hellman and Diffie sketched out. When these were ultimately built outside the classified world, they made it clear that DES was insecure and obsolete. In 2012, a $10,000 commercially available machine can recover a DES key in days.

Diffie was Manager of Secure Systems Research for Northern Telecom, where he designed the key management architecture for the PDSO security system for X.25 networks.[5]

In 1991 he joined Sun Microsystems Laboratories (in Menlo Park, California) as a Distinguished Engineer, working primarily on public policy aspects of cryptography. Diffie remained with Sun, serving as its Chief Security Officer and as a Vice President until November 2009. He is also a Sun Fellow.[7]

In 1992 he was awarded a Royal Holloway, University of London.[8] He was also awarded the IEEE Donald G. Fink Prize Paper Award in 1981 (together with Martin E. Hellman),[9] The Franklin Institute's Louis E. Levy Medal in 1997[10] a Golden Jubilee Award for Technological Innovation from the IEEE Information Theory Society in 1998,[11] and the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal in 2010.[12]

As of 2008, Diffie was a visiting professor at the Information Security Group based at Royal Holloway, University of London.[13]

In May 2010, Diffie joined the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) as Vice President for Information Security and Cryptography - a position he left in October 2012.[14]

In 2011, Diffie was named a Fellow of the Computer History Museum "for his work, with Martin Hellman and Ralph Merkle, on public key cryptography."[15]

Diffie is a member of the technical advisory board at Cryptomathic, where he collaborates with researchers such as Vincent Rijmen, Ivan Damgård and Peter Landrock.[16]

Public key cryptography

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."[4] The solution has become known as Diffie–Hellman key exchange.

Philosophical leanings

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."[4]

Published works

  • 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.[17]
  • 1976. (with Martin Hellman). New directions in cryptography. Information Theory, IEEE Transactions on (Volume:22 , Issue: 6 )


  1. ^ Whitfield Diffie 2011 Fellow
  2. ^ Levy, 2001, p. 90ff
  3. ^ "Whitfield Diffie - CISAC". Retrieved 2013-02-19. 
  4. ^ a b c d Levy, Stephen (1994-07-12). "Battle of the Clipper Chip".  
  5. ^ a b "The People at Oracle Labs". Bio. Oracle Corporation. n.d. Retrieved 2011-01-28. Whitfield Diffie, Chief Security Officer of Sun Microsystems, is Vice President and Sun Fellow and has been at Sun since 1991. As Chief Security Officer, Diffie is the chief exponent of Sun's security vision and responsible for developing Sun's strategy to achieve that vision. 
  6. ^ "DES (Data Encryption Standard) Review at Stanford University". 1976. Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  7. ^ "Dr. Whitfield Diffie". Sun Microsystems employee pages.  
  8. ^ "Honorary Degree awarded to Prof Whitfield Diffie, Visiting Professor to the ISG".  
  9. ^ "IEEE Donald G. Fink Prize Paper Award Recipients" (PDF). IEEE. Retrieved November 11, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Franklin Laureate Database - Louis E. Levy Medal Laureates".  
  11. ^ "Golden Jubilee Awards for Technological Innovation".  
  12. ^ "IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal Recipients" (PDF). IEEE. Retrieved November 11, 2010. 
  13. ^ Alumni Reunion Conference, Information Security Group, Royal Holloway, University of London, 2008, accessed 2010-07-20.
  14. ^ "Cryptography Legend Whit Diffie Joins the ICANN Team" (PDF). ICANN News Release.  
  15. ^ "Whitfield Diffie". Computer History Museum. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  16. ^ "Cryptomathic Management Team". Retrieved 2013-04-05. 
  17. ^ [2] MIT Press

Further reading

External links

  • Oral history interview with Martin Hellman Oral history interview 2004, Palo Alto, California. Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Hellman describes his invention of public key cryptography with collaborators Whitfield Diffie and Ralph Merkle at Stanford University in the mid-1970s. He also relates his subsequent work in cryptography with Steve Pohlig (the Pohlig–Hellman algorithm) and others. Hellman addresses the National Security Agency's (NSA) early efforts to contain and discourage academic work in the field, the Department of Commerce's encryption export restrictions, and key escrow (the so-called Clipper chip). He also touches on the commercialization of cryptography with RSA Data Security and VeriSign.
  • Cranky Geeks Episode 133
  • Wired Magazine biography of Whitfield Diffie
  • Interview with Whitfield Diffie on Chaosradio Express International
  • Cranky Geeks Episode 71
  • Risking Communications Security: Potential Hazards of the Protect America Act
  • RSA Conference 2010 USA: The Cryptographers Panel 1/6, video with Diffie participating on the Cryptographer's Panel, April 21, 2009, Moscone Center, San Francisco
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.