How public-key crypto was born

    Date27 Oct 2010
    Posted ByAlex
    Public-key cryptography is widely used to secure online transactions. The math behind the technology was devised by U.K. Government Communications Headquarters scientists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The discovery was kept secret to avoid revealing how closely GCHQ was working with the U.S. National Security Agency at the time. The breakthrough by GCHQ scientists James Ellis, Clifford Cocks, and Matthew Williamson only came to light in 1997, when their work was declassified.

    In public-key cryptography, data is encrypted using a widely distributed public key, and can be decrypted using a private key. Cocks, the GCHQ mathematician who invented the practical method of public-key cryptography in 1973, and Ralph Benjamin, who was GCHQ's chief scientist from 1971 to 1982, told ZDNet UK about their pioneering work.

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