Public-Key Cryptography (Public key encryption)

Public Key Cryptography (PKC) dramatically lowers the risk of information intercept and also lowers the risk of impersonation. PKC vastly increases security. For example, Google allows people to send queries to them encrypted. But they cannot decrypt the queries sent by others with what they give you, only Google can. Besides encrypting and decrypting, public keys can authenticate that a person is who they claim to be.

Patent fights can often obscure inventors. National security concerns intensify this problem. Inventors, in this case, worked in secret.

Significantly, Ellis, Cocks, and Williamson suggest they invented public-key cryptography about 1972, working for the British government. However, the technology was classified as secret by the British and the US National Security Agency (NSA) until 1997.

Eventually, not knowing about the classified innovation, Diffie and Hellman to “discovered” PKC in 1976. Particularly, Diffie and Hellman invented public-key encryption, maybe working for a telecom, maybe for Sun, and possibly for a government agency; it isn’t clear.

Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman made a successor system, RSA, that commercialized public key encryption. Public key encryption is what allows “secure” transmission of data over the Internet, among other things.

Electronic Cipher (Enigma)

Enigma is a cipher, a machine that implements an algorithm to encrypt and decrypt messages.

On Feb. 23, 1918, Scherbius applied for his first patent for what would become the most well-known cipher machine in history, the Enigma. Initially marketed for commercial purposes the German army modified a version for military encryption in 1926.

Nazis used Enigma extensively during WWII. They believed the encryption was unbreakable.

Decrypting Enigma messages required a new type of soldier, one more reliant on pencils and slide rules than rifles. These mathematicians and puzzle solvers were stations in the nondescript Bletchley Park.

Their work, led in large part by Alan Turing, both broke the Enigma encryption and eventually led to the innovation of the modern computer.

Scherbius died in an accident in 1929, long before WWII and the widespread use of his machine.

“The intelligence which has emanated from you before and during this campaign has been of priceless value to me. It has simplified my task as a commander enormously. It has saved thousands of British and American lives and, in no small way, contributed to the speed with which the enemy was routed and eventually forced to surrender.”

Letter from Gen. (later President) Eisenhower to the workers of Bletchley for breaking Enigma, Jul. 12, 1945