Martin Edward Hellman, is one of the great figures of the cryptography around the world. Born on October 2, 1945 (he is 75 years old), Hellman is known worldwide for being one of the co-creators of the asymmetric cryptography system together with Whitfield diffie y Ralph Merkle.
Since then, Hellman has been a fundamental part of the study, research and development of cryptographic and computer security systems around the world.
His early studies and beginnings of his career
Hellman began his studies in his hometown, New York, graduating from the Bronx High School of Science. By 1966, Hellman earned his BA in Electrical Engineering from New York University. In 1967, he received his master's degree from Stanford University and finally in 1969. And then, he complements his studies by receiving a doctorate from the same university.
In between his master's and postgraduate studies, Hellman worked at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, where he met Horst Feistel, a renowned IBM cryptographer who would later create the DES encryption standard. . After earning his doctorate, Hellman became an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
He would later join the department of electrical engineering at Stanford University in 1971 as an assistant professor. There, he served on the faculty full-time for twenty-five years before taking Emeritus Professor status as a Senior Lecturer in 1996.
Creating asymmetric cryptography
In 1976, Hellman and Whitfield Diffie, worked together in a publication called "New Directions in Cryptography". Hellman and Diffie's work was quickly recognized as revolutionary because the operating scheme was radically different from anything seen before. The proposed system solved the biggest problem of cryptography, which was to distribute the keys among a group so that the keys were only understandable to the parties interested in establishing a secure communication channel, leaving the rest out of it.
To do this, they created the public key exchange scheme called Diffie-Hellman. This scheme allowed two parties to share the fair and necessary information to create an encrypted communication channel safely and without intermediaries. The scheme, which also had the collaboration of Ralph Merkle, is also known as Diffie-Hellman-Merkle.
This work was only the beginning of a whole new era of advancements in the crypto world and marked the beginning of the cryptography that we know today, especially that which is actively used within cryptocurrency projects. Digital signature techniques such as ECDSA, EdDSA, Schnorr or safer technologies such as Zero Knowledge Tests (ZKP) and SNARKS tests (zk-SNARK y zk-STARK) are just an evolution of this technology in the Hellman was a fundamental part of its development.
Other contributions to safety
Alongside this, Martin Hellman played a leadership role in what would become known as the "First Crypto Wars". An event in the late 70s and early 80s, when the US government and its allies prevented asymmetric cryptography systems from being used publicly, fearing that they would help the Soviet Union, its army and spy systems.
In his role as a staunch advocate for digital security and privacy, and his leadership in the Crypto Wars, one of the first things he did was to leave constant warning about the weakness of the DES standard. Hellman and his colleague Diffie, allocated resources and studies to demonstrate that DES was a system that could be exploited and cracked without major difficulties.
It would take almost 20 years to prove this theory, by 1997 a joint work with RSA Security, one of the Diffie-Hellman theories to break DES was applied with total success. This broke the highest standard of "security" in the computer world to date. Making it clear how wrong the government organizations were about the security of DES and the subsequent 3DES (TripleDES).
Other of Hellman's great contributions were seen when between 1994 and 1996, when Hellman was part of the National Cryptographic Policy Study Committee of the National Research Council.