Fellows Highlight - Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman

June 17, 2010

Original News Rlease released on June 17, 2010, Piscataway, N.J. – IEEE.

Whitfield Diffie, Martin E. Hellman and Ralph C. Merkle,
Inventors of Public Key Cryptography, to Receive 2010 IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal

Public Key Cryptography Makes Secure Communication over the Internet Possible

Whitfield Diffie and Martin HellmanWhitfield Diffie, Martin E. Hellman and Ralph C. Merkle, engineers whose development of public key cryptography revolutionized the field and provided the security needed to enable safe commercial applications of the Internet, are being honored by IEEE with the 2010 IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal. IEEE is the world’s largest professional association advancing technology for humanity.

The medal, sponsored by Qualcomm, Inc., recognizes Diffie, Hellman and Merkle for the invention of public key cryptography and its application to secure communications. The medal will be presented on 26 June 2010 at the IEEE Honors Ceremony in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and will be broadcast live on the Web through www.ieee.tv.

Whenever someone uses the Internet to make a purchase or submit personal information, the security provided by public key cryptography protects the sensitive data from prying eyes and enables the use of digital signatures to verify identity. Prior to the development of public key cryptography in 1976, the cryptographic keys used to encrypt information had to be exchanged over a secure, or private, communications channel, after which the encrypted information could be transferred securely over an otherwise insecure channel. Diffie, Hellman and Merkle’s concept of public key cryptography allows the key exchange to take place over the same insecure channel as the message itself without any secret prearrangement between the transmitter and receiver – a seemingly impossible feat, but one that is carried out literally billions of times every day. Their invention has enabled the proliferation of e-commerce over the Internet, an otherwise notoriously insecure communication channel, and has allowed electronic communications to replace a large portion of paper-based communications.

An IEEE Member and Marconi International Fellow, Diffie was co-recipient of the 1996 National Computer Systems Security Award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Security Agency, the 1997 Association for Computing Machinery Kanellakis Award and the 1999 IEEE Koji Kobayashi Award. Diffie received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, and an honorary doctorate in technical sciences from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich. Until 2009, Diffie, was chief security officer at Sun Microsystems. He is currently visiting scholar at Stanford University and chief cryptographer of Revere Security, Dallas, Texas.

An IEEE Fellow, Marconi International Fellow and member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, Hellman holds six U.S. patents and a number of corresponding foreign patents. He was co-recipient of the 1996 National Computer Systems Security Award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Security Agency, the 1997 Association for Computing Machinery Kanellakis Award and the 1999 IEEE Koji Kobayashi Award. He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from New York University and his master’s and doctorate degrees from Stanford University, Calif. He is Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University.

An IEEE Member, Merkle’s awards include the 2000 RSA Award in Mathematics and the 1988 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology. He was a co-recipient with Diffie and Hellman of the 1997 Association for Computing Machinery Kanellakis Award and the 1999 IEEE Koji Kobayashi Award. Merkle received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, both in computer science, from the University of California, Berkeley, and his doctorate from Stanford University, Calif. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, Palo Alto, Calif.

About IEEE

IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional association, is dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. Through its highly cited publications, conferences, technology standards, and professional and educational activities, IEEE is the trusted voice on a wide variety of areas ranging from aerospace systems, computers and telecommunications to biomedical engineering, electric power and consumer electronics. Learn more at http://www.ieee.org.