Crypto : How the Code Rebels Beat the Government-Saving Privacy in the Digital Age
Crypto is about privacy in the information age and about the nerds and visionaries who, nearly twenty years ago, predicted that the Internet's greatest virtue -- free access to information -- was also its most perilous drawback: a possible end to privacy.
Levy explores what turned out to be a decisive development in the crypto wars: the unlikely alliance between the computer geeks and big business as they fought the government's stranglehold on the keys to information in a networked world.
The players come alive here in a narrative that reads like the best of futuristic spy fiction. There is Whit Diffie, the long-haired Newton of crypto who invented the astounding "public key" solution; David Chaum, whose "anonymous digital money" actually threatened the global financial infrastructure; and "cypherpunks" like Phil Zimmermann, who freely distributed military-strength codes under the nose of the U. S. government. There is also the first behind-the-scenes account of what the secretive National Security Agency really had in mind when it created the controversial "clipper chip" -- and how the Clinton administration bungled the operation.
The author of the 1994 sleeper Hackers reveals how a group of men developed methods for encrypting digital transmissions for use in the private sector. As the digital age was dawning in the late 1970s, a major stumbling block to delivering information and conducting transactions via high-speed networks was the lack of security from outside parties who might wish to intercept the data (even though the National Security Agency had acres of computers dedicated to protecting government secrets and even more designed to decode other countries' messages). Widely available systems only began to emerge after a range of free thinkers, including such crypto legends as Whit Diffie and Marty Hellman, began to devote their considerable mind power to the issue. After a slow start, Levy's story steadily builds momentum as the crypto pioneers do battle with the NSA, look for ways to commercialize their discoveries and fight for the federal government's approval of the strongest encryption methods. The chief technology writer for Newsweek, Levy locates the heart of the matter in the struggle to balance the need for the most effective encryption possible with the government's need to decode messages that might endanger national security a struggle in which privacy, so far, has prevailed. Agent, Dominick Abel . (Jan. 8) Forecast: Levy's reputation grows with each book, and publicity that links this title to his bestselling Hackers will ensure strong sales. The title is backed by a six-city author tour and national radio satellite tour. The major promo campaign online, where Levy is minor royalty, may be most effective, but the book's biggest boost will come from the planned excerpt in Newsweek. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
January 03, 2001
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Crypto by Steven Levy
The telegraph, telephone, radio, and especially the computer have put everyone on the globe within earshot -- at the price of our privacy. It may feel like we're performing an intimate act when, sequestered in our rooms and cubicles, we casually use our cell phones and computers to transmit our thoughts, confidences, business plans, and even our money. But clever eavesdroppers, and sometimes even not-so-clever ones, can hear it all. We think we're whispering, but we're really broadcasting.
A potential antidote exists: cryptography, the use of secret codes and ciphers to scramble information so that it's worthless to anyone but the intended recipients. And it's through the magic of cryptography that many communications conventions of the real world -- such as signatures, contracts, receipts, and even poker games -- will find their way to the ubiquitous electronic commons. But as recently as the early 1970s, a deafening silence prevailed over this amazing technology. Governments, particularly that of the United States, managed to stifle open discussion on any aspect of the subject that ventured beyond schoolboy science. Anyone who pursued the fundamental issues about crypto, or, worse, attempted to create new codes or crack old ones, was doomed to a solitary quest that typically led to closed doors, suddenly terminated phone connections, or even subtle warnings to think about something else.
The crypto embargo had a sound rationale: the very essence of cryptography is obscurity, and the exposure that comes from the dimmest ray of sunlight illuminating the working of a government cipher could result in catastrophic damage. An outsider who knew how our encryption worked could make his or her own codes; a foe who learned what codes we could break would shun those codes thereafter.
But what if governments were not the only potential beneficiaries of cryptography? What if the people themselves needed it, to protect their communications and personal data from any and all intruders, including the government itself? Isn't everybody entitled to privacy? Doesn't the advent of computer communications mean that everyone should have access to the sophisticated tools that allow the exchange of words with lawyers and lovers, coworkers and customers, physicians and priests with the same confidence granted face-to-face conversations behind closed doors?