Inventing Public Key Cryptography

A Fool's Errand: v 2.1

Martin E. Hellman, Stanford University

Abstract: When Diffie, Merkle and I first started working in cryptography in the early 1970's, my colleagues uniformly told me we were crazy. They argued that, with NSA's huge budget and head start, we could never hope to discover anything new and, if we did, "they" would classify it. Both arguments were valid and later came to haunt us, but hindsight shows it was wise to be foolish.

In the 1980's, I took on another fool's errand, trying to end the threat that nuclear weapons posed to our continued survival. While that problem remains unsolved, more progress was made than would have been rational to expect. Since the problem remains unsolved, I am now embarked on another phase of trying to solve it, which can be thought of as fool’s errand version 2.1. This talk will trace the developments that led to PKC, recount some surprising partial successes on defusing the nuclear threat during the 80's, and lay out a proposed complete solution to that threat—which of course will sound crazy and probably is. But that doesn't mean it can't work!

Time and Place

29 November 2008 (Tuesday) at 1630 hrs
Gates 4B (opposite 490)