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NSA Historical Figures

Dr. Whitfield Diffie

2020 Hall of Honor Inductee

Dr. Whitfield Diffie is a globally renowned pioneer in computer security, best known for his 1975 joint invention of Public-Key Cryptology.  Public Key now underlies all secure electronic commerce and stimulated development of an entirely new class of encryption process.

During and after a career in industry, Diffie has been a policy advocate for communication privacy rights with strong cryptography as a primary tool. He has been a frequent presenter at computer security conferences, published numerous articles, and co-authored the book Privacy on the Line, an influential study that addressed issues and policies related to law enforcement and national security.  He has testified before Congressional subcommittees regarding computer security and privacy.

Another historic Diffie insight was the “digital signature.” With this advance, digitally transmitted documents could easily – and for the first time – be irrefutably confirmed and documented, with an immense impact on commerce, as well as command and control systems.

Diffie maintains good relations with NSA, while remaining a respectful critic when necessary. The Phoenix Society inducted him as an honorary member.  He has served on the Board of the National Cryptologic Museum Foundation and has made presentations at the biennial Cryptologic History Symposium.  Unique among independent cryptographers, Diffie is, in many ways, a member of the NSA family.