As the previous article on the anniversary of TCP/IP alludes to, the dramatic development of information technology in the past half-century has left more than one person’s achievements forgotten. Until 1997 that was the case for Clifford Cocks, who (along with James Ellis and Malcolm Williamson) first developed the widely-used encryption protocol, now known as RSA.
In order to enable machines similar to Enigma (the code-creating tool used during WW2) to securely exchange information between one another, a secure methodology was required. Although Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman (RSA) were credited with developing this public key tollfree numbers cryptology at MIT in 1977, it was only twenty years later that GCHQ revealed the impressive truth: a full three years before their work, in 1973, Clifford Cocks had already developed the same solution. In fact, it was only because the work was deemed to be “Classified” that it couldn’t be used as a commercial entity.
That didn’t stop Cocks’ genius being put to good use. As of 2003, he held the post of Chief Mathematician at GCHQ. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 2008 and went on to receive an honorary degree from Bristol University in 2008. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) granted its 100th Milestone Award to Cocks, Ellis and Williamson in October 2010.