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Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government--Saving Privacy in the Digital Age [Hardcover]

Steven Levy
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 2003
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.

"Gripping and illuminating." (The Wall Street Journal)
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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From Amazon

Author Steven Levy, deservedly famous for his enlightening Hackers, tells the story of the cypherpunks, their foes, and their allies in Crypto; if the National Security Agency (NSA) had wanted to make sure that strong encryption would reach the masses, it couldn't have done much better than to tell the cranky geniuses of the world not to do it.

From the determined research of Whitfield Diffie and Marty Hellman, in the face of the NSA's decades-old security lock, to the commercial world's turn-of-the-century embrace of encrypted e-commerce, Levy finds drama and intellectual challenge everywhere he looks. Although he writes, "Behind every great cryptographer, it seems, there is a driving pathology", his respect for the mathematicians and programmers who spearheaded public key encryption as the solution to Information Age privacy invasion shines throughout. Even the governmental bad guys are presented more as hapless control fetishists who lack the prescience to see the inevitability of strong encryption as more than a conspiracy of evil.

Each cryptological advance that was made outside the confines of the NSA's Fort Meade complex was met with increasing legislative and judicial resistance. Levy's storytelling acumen tugs the reader along through mathematical and legal hassles that would stop most narratives in their tracks--his words make even the depressingly silly Clipper chip fiasco vibrant. Hardcore privacy nerds will value Crypto as a review of 30 years of wrangling; those readers with less familiarity with the subject will find it a terrific and well-documented launching pad for further research. From notables like Phil Zimmerman to obscure but important figures like James Ellis, Crypto dishes the dirt on folks who know how to keep a secret. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

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 securityAa 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 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid Journalism, Mediocre Literature Nov. 24 2003
According to the flyleaf, David Kahn (who wrote "The
Codebreakers") said of this book that "Steven Levy has written
cryptography's 'The Soul of a New Machine'". There may be some
truth to that, but mostly it implies a level of prose that is not
in evidence in this book. Steven Levy is no Tracy Kidder, aside
from an occasional tendency to let his prose override his
writing. What Levy is, however, is a pretty good technology
journalist, and the book is at its best when it trades on that
background. Indeed, Levy used a great deal of research in this
book which doesn't appear to have been used for his earlier
magazine articles. While the book is not footnoted, there is an
extensive "notes" section at the end. There is also a
bibiliography, and an index.
One thing that Levy fails to do is make his "characters" come
across as fascinating individuals. This is not for lack of
trying -- clearly he finds them fascinating himself. However,
his prose fails him, particularly when trying to raise what a
journalist would call "human interest."
The strength of the book is not in its revelations of fact
either. The events described are already well-known to anybody
with an interest in the subject (in a number of cases,
particularly for events over the last decade, this is due to
Levy's own journalism in "Wired" and elsewhere). Aside from
filling in the history for those previously unaware of it, Levy's
interviewing skills turn up new evidence of the answers to one of
the most frequently repeated questions in the history of open
cryptography: "what were they thinking?
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By totor
This book is a contribution to the History of crypto and computing, assuming that this history changes very much our everyday life even if we are not into computer field.
It focuses on the story of the people who opened the crypto Pandora's box, allowing todays e-business long before the word was even invented. It starts with Whit Diffie (Diffie-Hellman) in the late 60's, through Rivest, Shamir and Adleman (RSA) and ends with Zimmerman (Pgp) and Helsingius (remailer). It also follows other conributors to crypto and business people (eg. : from RSA, Lotus) as well as some politicians and people involved at the NSA.
The author describes the oppositions between the pro-crypto-for-everyone and the US government, the government self-contradictions and oppositions with the tech firms. This includes facts about the NSA, the Clipper Chip issue, the patents problems, etc. These are always seen from the viewpoint of the various people involved at that time.
It is easy to read and does not need any technical or maths background. If focuses on the people. It does not discuss the subject : it tells us the story.
If you are looking for a book about crypto in order to understand "how it works", forget this book. If you want to understand how people with one obsession can change the world, just read it.
The author manages suspens very well, from the beginning to the end. This book is hard to close : you really want to get to the next page.
So why not 5 stars ? Because I think this book could have been perfect with just a few diagrams showing the crypto algorithm (eg. : differences between Diffie-Hellman and RSA are not clear). Ok... ok... I give 5 stars only to books which change my life. This one is exciting, informative and well written, but not to that point.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Telling History of Cryptography April 21 2002
Cryptography has become one of the most important technologies in a secure digital world. It makes possible digital signatures, protection of confidential information, protection against tampering--or at least provides notification that tampering has occurred--and secure authentication of users. In an age when the simplest security breeches of highly visible dot-coms makes the front page of the popular press, cryptography and related technologies are making their ways into almost all of the software products we use daily.
But it's easy to forget that only recently did cryptography become available for non-government users. Reaching this point was a long and hard battle with what used to be the most secret of government organizations, the National Security Agency (NSA). Bit by bit, researchers outside the agency made fundamental discoveries that eroded NSA's ability to control cryptography. Until finally the government was forced to come to terms with the digital age where the secrets could make their way around the globe in seconds.
This is the story that Steven Levy tells. Although the book tends to portray researchers outside the NSA as skillful and lucky heroes, and those inside the NSA as pompous but brilliant ideologues, it's a compelling story. The book is roughly chronological, starting with Whit Diffie's independent discovery of public key cryptography, one of the major breakthroughs that made the field feasible, the story of RSA, the ill-fated Clipper chip, and concessions the NSA was forced into against overwhelming pressure.
The author outlines the development of a people's cryptography and its collision with the U.S. government.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Plaintext review :)
It was a great to learn about the origins of crypto and the different people which brought about this revolution to protect privacy of everyone. Read more
Published on Dec 7 2003 by Romin Cyrus Irani
5.0 out of 5 stars History of modern cryptography
I've read Simon Singh's book on the history of cryptography, and had some doubts whether this book would add much, but having enjoyed Levy's "Hackers", I bought this book... Read more
Published on Nov. 6 2003 by Uri Raz
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping
Mr. Levy needs to write more books. Crypto is an excellent examination of modern day cryptography inteleaved with intrigue. Read more
Published on Oct. 3 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars Drab and Uninteresting
It is more of a history of the characters than the history of RSA or cryptography. I would recommend Simon Singh's The Code Book for anyone wanting to learn about the history of... Read more
Published on Jan. 30 2003 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Good Presentation :-)
I enjoyed reading this book; Mr. Levy has an engaging and readable style. One can always wish for more, but in my case, I would have liked a chapter about crypto activities in... Read more
Published on Jan. 13 2003 by John Hanley
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and Readable
Levy does a good job of making a complex and potentially dry subject readable for a wide audience. Using an approach similar to the approach he took in _Hackers_, he uses the the... Read more
Published on June 14 2002 by frumiousb
4.0 out of 5 stars Would the story be different after 9/11?
Interesting book that really summarizes the efforts of the multitude of techies trying to keep cryptogrophy out of the government sponsored purview. Read more
Published on Dec 26 2001 by D. Berman
5.0 out of 5 stars Crypto for the People
This is a book about people, very bright idealistic and forward looking people based principally in the beginning at MIT and Stanford. Read more
Published on Dec 18 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Required reading in a post-WTC world
Since the September 11th attacks, a lot of politicans are discussing bringing back the idea of a key escrow system ala "Clipper Chip. Read more
Published on Nov. 5 2001 by A. Valentine
5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting read
I throughly enjoyed this work. It tells the story of cryptography becoming a front and center issue in our society. Read more
Published on Oct. 21 2001 by Mark Mascolino
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