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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  1,397 ratings  ·  108 reviews
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 Stephen 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 ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published December 31st 2001 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2001)
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 ·  1,397 ratings  ·  108 reviews

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Jan 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Steven Levy can write compellingly about deeply technical subjects. He makes the history of cryptography come alive in this book. But god, I hate the way he writes about women.

To be fair, Crypto is better than Hackers in that there is more than one mention of a woman in the entire book. But women in his writing are still "diminutive" (a word likely never before or since used to described Cindy Cohn) (301), "diminutive" and "benign as Betty Crocker," (describing Dorothy Denning, 249). They are ne
Ed Limonov
Sep 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Reading this book was a slight deception, not because of the content, but mainly because it's a bit messy. The chapters don't correlate with each other very well and the content is not as well orgnaized as I was expecting. Aside from that, I bleieve I LEARNED something new. ...more
Nov 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is about the battle for privacy: a battle that pitted nobodies against the world's most powerful people and governments. The nobodies won. Governments have always had a substantial stake in restricting access to information, often for very good reasons, but individuals need to protect their personal information also. The computer provided the means for incredibly powerful cryptographic tools, and those in power wanted to keep those tools to themselves. Whitfield Diffie was a contrarian ...more
Rick Howard
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: privacy, cryptology
At our office in Reston, VA, I host an office Cybersecurity Canon book club. Every couple of months, we pick a book either from the Hall of Fame list or from the candidate list, read it as a group, bring everybody in for a lunch & learn, and talk about it. This last time, we discussed “Crypto” by Steven Levy. The Cybersecurity Canon Committee inducted “Crypto” into the Canon Hall of Fame back in 2017 because Levy describes a turning point in world history, between 1975 and 1996, when math and co ...more
Jul 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-firsttime, kindle, 2012
This was a pretty interesting read about cryptography and its history. It's an in depth look at the creators of the widely used schemes on the internet. I've had a brief overview of public key cryptography in a couple of my CS classes, so I had a good background to understand how the encryption scheme actually works and what's involved. That being said, this book goes even further back and looks at how encryption really became an issue.

By far, the most fascinating part of this book for me was ho
Marsha Altman
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bitcoin
It was written in 2014 so it's outdated just by the nature of the beast, but this is definitely the best introduction to crypto, bitcoin, and blockchain technology that I've read so far. ...more
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Definitely an interesting reading - especially after all of the Snowden leaks. As I'm quite interested in the history of crypto - especially modern public key cryptography - I knew about most of the protagonists mentioned in the book. But there are a lot of anecdotes and interrelationship I didn't know anything about. So learning about all of this, was really a joy. Steven Levy has definitely the skill to breath life into topics most would describe as theoretical and boring. I'm pretty sure that ...more
Ed Terrell
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, cryptology
This book was a page turner! Extremely well written description of battle between individual privacy and the NSA that went on from 1980 to 2000. The era started with Martin Gardner's1977 article in Scientific American on RSA-129, a public key cryptography system and how large primes, modular arithmetic, and one way functions can be used to create (mostly) unbreakable codes. Levy mixes mathematics, history and politics to show that Big Brother doesn't always know best. From Fermat's Little theore ...more
Ed Holden
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fifteen-year-old book on technology doesn't seem like it could be relevant enough to warrant attention, but it was worth reading for two reasons. First, it's a history book, so the events and concepts haven't changed. But more importantly the world is essentially in the same state it was in when the book was published in 2002: cryptography is still legal, the export battle is still won. We still use hybrid encryption with RSA and certificate authorities, as we did then. The book feels current, ...more
Apr 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is one hell of a non-fiction book. I tore through it in every free moment I had in four days, and I'm probably going to re-read it, too.

It paints an exciting history (1960-2000) of the discovery of private-sector encryption algorithms, and colorful skirmishes between professors, tech-entrepreneurs and the NSA.

Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Similar to Levy's earlier book Hackers, this book follows some of the characters involved in the birth of public/private key cryptography. Although as a math geek, I would have appreciated a bit more explanation about how cryptography actually works, I think he did an admirable job of explaining enough to make sense of his main story, which is about the personalities involved.
Apr 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Artnoose McMoose
Jan 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who uses email
So, think of this as another installment of the Artnoose Moves Into the 21st Century series, even though most of the history in this book takes place in the 70s through 90s.

Simply put, this is a history of the invention of encrypted electronic communication. It starts with a very brief history of cryptology--- Caesar ciphers, the Enigma Machine, etc.--- and follows the life stories of the people who ended up in the 1970s inventing the public-key-private-key method of encryption and the subseque
Ondrej Urban
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If I'm not mistaken, I bought this book at the Computer History museum, in Mountain View, just across the street from Googleplex, about six years ago. When I picked it up this holidays, I might have been feeling a bit tired from all the fantasy I've made my way through recently, but whatever the reason, I was in for a treat.

I can't but make a couple of comparisons between Crypto and Simon Singh's The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography. While both deal wi
Beck Frost
Dec 02, 2013 rated it liked it
This book shows its age by the retrospect that occurs. The history is great and free flowing with great details, but there was so much more going on than what this book allows and the very last pages hint at this when it mentions Ellis. You never know his real contributions, but the government of the US and Great Britain side of this equation were watching the commercial cryptographers with a bit of wonder at how they were coming up with their codes and how their processes were comparing with th ...more
Michal Angelo
Steven Levy is something of a legend amongst the annals of computing history. His writing is fresh and concise; this is a volume anyone could read, whether programmer, executive, or conspiracy theorist. Highly technical concepts are brought down to lay-terms, and yet there is enough detail to keep the gear-head interested.

This is a volume I will have on my shelf simply because I'm proud to have read it. It will go somewhere around the proximity of Donald Ervin Knuth.
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent history of what keeps the Internet booming and working. Nothing we currently have would be possible without cryptography. The value in democracy is also shown in the battle of government/NSA with researchers, something that is impossible in totalitarian regimes where any dissent is squashed.
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It just happens that soon after reading this book, I took a proper cryptology class as part of my computer science undergrad. This book was both: a) an awesome lesson in history, and b) an awesome 101-primer for anyone (let alone a student about to dive into the nittier/grittier details of math/etc.).

Absolutely loved this book.
Walter E. Anderson
Great read

Very well conveyed story of how the last best hope for liberty was given to mankind.

Also serves as a testimony of how little trust we should have in government and it's beauracratic functionaries.
Peter Last Name
Apr 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
Reality is informative but not always interesting.
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Well-written and easy to read, although it turns out the subject matter didn't hit me as hard as it should, having grown up in a time when all of this had already become mainstream. ...more
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
I had a hard time finding genuine interest in the material when I have no background in cryptography and don't have any relation--even remotely--with anyone in the book. The author made a good effort in breaking down different cryptography methods in a way that he hoped any layman could understand. At first, when it got down to these more technical areas of the book--where the author laid out the algorithms in [relatively] simple terms--I paused my reading and read over the author's explanations ...more
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very entertaining and detailed storytelling from Steven Levy about the fight with the Goliath that is the US government. Story from the 70s till the millenium, and still extremely relevent. Finished it on the 101th birthday of my home country, Estonia. One of the poster-countries of IT in the world. During the very same day when Whitfield Diffie and Martin Edward Hellman received an award from the Republic of Estonia, because without PKI we wouldn't have ID-cards, online tax declarations, e-voti ...more
Roger Boyle
Jul 24, 2019 rated it liked it
H bought this for some teaching she will do and left it in the bathroom.

Interesting enough but not helped by style or superficiality. I knew at least 90% of the tech side of this already, but he didn't present most of that - I guess he is correct in assuming most of his intended audience couldn't hack it. He covers the politics of dealing with NSA rather well, and tells a lot of good stories about the major players (of whom he knows) - I hadn't known a lot of that. It's pretty clear that a lot o
Aarav Balsu
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellently researched. 4/5 because it isn't as contemporary as I'd like it to be; that's no fault of the author though.

Introduces the cast of the open cryptographic movement in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s and weaves a well-paced narrative tying together elements of the philosophy of privacy, government obfuscation, technological innovations, and developments in mathematics. This is a great book for someone who wants to dip their toes into the origins and champions of modern cr
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
Stephen Levy takes you through a tremendous story of hippies in an intellectual battle against secret government agencies in the battle for information privacy. He draws on all the major characters all the way up until the year 2000 and is objective in pointing out what is disputed and what is not. I found the story of Whit Diffie and Marty Hellman to be exceptional. Levy makes certain to describe key crypto concepts in layman terms so that the reader can appreciate the impact of these invention ...more
Our whole digital world revolves around the folks that fought this invisible war

It gets a tad boring unless you really like cryptography. There's no need to understand the maths of Cryptography to enjoy this book and I take my hat off to Steven for writing this riveting story put forth in a manner to praise the Lords of Crypto and yet keep us mere mortals in the loop.

Felt really sad about Ellis.
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tech
Really fascinating look at the history of computer-based crypto in the late 20th century. Details the struggle between the public and private sector over development of public crypto. Written in a journalistic style that makes for a great page-turner.
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
A really nice book, tells the story of the development of publik key cryptography as a thrilling and romantic tale, quick to read with lots of further book recommendations sprinkled in with the story.
Jun 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating look at legacy bureaucracy attempting to stifle innovation and change. The Sisyphean effort of closing the barn door after the horse has left. Oh and fear of science, math, and technology.
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Steven Levy is editor at large at Wired, and author of eight books, including the new Facebook: the Inside Story, the definitive history of that controversial company. His previous works include the legendary computer history Hackers, Artificial Life, the Unicorn 's Secret, In the Plex (the story of Google, chose as Amazon and Audible's best business book of 2011), and Crypto, which won the Frankf ...more

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