How the Code Rebels Beat the Government--Saving Privacy in the Digital Age
If you've ever made a secure purchase with your credit card over the Internet, then you have seen cryptography, or "crypto," in action. From Steven Levy-the author who made "hackers" a household word-comes this account of a revolution that is already affecting every citizen in the twenty-first century. Crypto tells the inside story of how a group of "crypto rebels"-nerds and visionaries turned freedom fighters-teamed up with corporate interests to beat Big Brother and ensure our privacy on the Internet. Levy's history of one of the most controversial and important topics of the digital age reads like the best futuristic fiction.Acknowledgments
"Gripping and illuminating." (The Wall Street Journal)
Patents and Keys
The Clipper Chip
Slouching Toward Crypto
Epilogue: The Open Secret
"Gripping and illuminating." The Wall Street Journal
"A great David-and-Goliath storyhumble hackers hoodwink sinister spooks." Time
Crypto begins as a love story: a somewhat bizarre young man brusquely lectures a woman he has just met in a hardware store. It’s a geeky Beatrice and Benedick; readers, they marry. But it’s certainly not the kind of beginning one might expect to a book that tackles the recent evolution of the relatively arcane field of cryptography.
As it turns out, the romance of Mary Fischer and Whit Diffie does have a very important role in the development of what some consider to be the most crucial cryptographic breakthrough since Ceasar started using a simple cipher. Since my approach to writing about technology and science is to tell stories about the innovators, letting their tales drive a narrative, it was natural for me to research the human side of my subjects and let that shine as brightly as their mathematical and political accomplishments. But there was something else that led me to begin with that meeting. I wanted to make a statement that what’s happened in cryptography over the past three decades is not a highfalutin’ topic limited to math nerds, wireheads, policy wonks, and e-commerce dot-com survivors. It¹s something very personal. For all of us.
It’s as personal as the email you send to your colleagues or your spouse, as personal as the words you speak into your cell phone. As personal as you medical records, and your money. The computer age had thrust this formerly arcane subject into the centre of a huge question: is privacy possible?
Once I came to realize that, choosing to write about the crypto wars of the past thirty years was an easy decision. But my first exposure came while attending a 1992 panel discussion on a seemingly dry subject: export controls on software. It turned out to be a passionate debate about freedom and repression. I had just published a book called Artificial Life and was looking for a new subject, and began looking into the world of crypto, starting with a story on a new group of code rebels called the Cypherpunks that became the second cover story for a new magazine called Wired. But I felt that the controversy over whether people should be allowed to communicate so that government could not snoop on them hadn’t reached a climax, so I took a detour and wrote a book to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Macintosh computer. Along the way I kept learning more about cryptographers, intelligence agencies, and our own fragile privacy.
So soon after Insanely Great was published (1994), I embarked on Crypto just in time to parachute into the front lines of the battle over the National Security Agency’s ill-fated Clipper Chip, the scheme that would allow government a ‘back door’ into our secret conversations.
It has been exhilarating to cover these developments and, even more importantly, to reconstruct the breakthroughs and battles that brought us to our current state, the threshold of a revolution fueled by exotic tools and techniques that will affect the nature of our conversations, activities, and transactions. Controversies over cryptography, how it might protect songs and movies, how it may transform the nature of money, etc. will rage for some time. With Crypto I hope I’ve provided some perspective, as well as some romance.
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