There was a time when cryptography--the making and breaking of secret codes--was of interest only to spies, diplomats, and the occasional eccentric. Those days are over, and the reason, as Diffie and Landau explain, is that secret codes have become the key to preserving traditional notions of privacy at a time when technology is rapidly altering the nature of human communication.
When the vast majority of conversations happened face to face, keeping them private was a simple matter of stepping away from the listening crowd. But the growing number of conversations that take place over easy-to-intercept phone lines and e-mail channels requires more sophisticated safeguards. Above all, it requires online encryption tools of the highest grade, and this book does a good job of explaining how these tools work, both in principle and in practice. It does a better job, though, of explaining why the tools matter. The intense political battles that have surrounded digital cryptography in recent years are a testament to the profound political implications of privacy in the online era, and Diffie and Landau have delivered an admirably thorough overview of both the struggles and the stakes. If at times their thoroughness bogs them down in dry recitations of detail, their book at least generates more light than heat, and that can hardly be said of most contributions to the cryptography debate so far. --Julian Dibbell
From Publishers Weekly
Comsec, sigint, NSA, NIST, DES, Clipper chip, key escrow?such technobabble related to intelligence-gathering can baffle the uninitiated. This authoritative treatise helps unveil some of the mystery and puts contemporary freedom, privacy and security issues in perspective. After explaining basic concepts of cryptography, the authors cover the history of 20th-century intelligence gathering, then recount the long, discouraging saga of the U.S. government's invasions of its citizens' privacy. In World War II, census data were used illegally to round up Japanese Americans. In the 1950s and '60s, the CIA read private mail, and in the 1970s, it monitored research requests in public libraries. The electronic spying of our security agencies is not even a law-enforcement bargain?wiretapping is costly and produces arguably modest results. Issues of the 1990s include the 1992 Digital Telephone Proposal, the legal vicissitudes of "Pretty Good Privacy," and the government's attempts to require key escrow (storage of keys so that the government can crack coded messages). As in earlier times, we still see competition between the various security bureaucracies. Diffie is a distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems and the inventor of public-key cryptography (software that encodes a document with one key and deciphers it with another); Landau is a research associate professor in the department of computer science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Together, they bring formidable expertise to bear on complex topics.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.