History lesson: The origins of wiki, blog and other high-tech lingo

Technology we take for granted today was new not so long ago, and somebody had to name it.

PUBLIC KEY, PRIVATE KEY: Whitfield Diffie says he coined the term public key in the spring of 1975 to describe the encryption method he was formulating during his time as an "itinerant cryptographer" getting by on a Stanford University research grant with support from an understanding wife with a corporate job.

Today, Diffie's visionary public-key encryption concept is widely regarded as a eureka moment in data security. Users no longer had to exchange a secret key (which had to always be kept secret) to encrypt and decrypt messages to each other. Instead, a public key for a message recipient could be published to the world that was tied to a secret key — Diffie called it the private-key — that the recipient would use to unlock the scrambled data. Diffie, who presented his public-private key exchange ideas at the National Computer Conference in 1976, teamed with Stanford University professor Marty Hellman to publish the paper "New Directions in Cryptography" the same year.

Diffie says the development and elaboration of the public-private key pair is as much Hellman's work as his own. Diffie isn't wholly satisfied that he choose the word private to coin the term private key, since "privacy has so many different meanings," he points out. But he adds that the world would do well to consider his wife, Mary Fischer, to whom he's been married 35 years, as "the Mother of Public-Key Cryptography" because she was both inspiration and support in the difficult early days of its invention.

PUNCH CARD: A paper card used for early computing instructions, the term appears to have officially originated with Herman Hollerith, the inventor of the electric tabulating system for the 1890 U.S. Census.

REDUCED INSTRUCTION SET COMPUTING: Based on an invention by IBM scientist John Cocke in the early 1970s, RISC is the acronym widely used to describe a CPU design strategy based on the notion that simplified instructions that "do less" may still provide for higher performance, giving rise to the expression RISC-based architectures to describe how some computers work. (See bio of John Cocke.)

ROUTER: No one individual seems to be responsible for picking the word, but many Internet pioneers of the TCP/IP community in the 1980s had been calling the equipment gateways and Cisco at one point even called them terminal concentrators. But in part to differentiate from other types of equipment also called gateways (such as e-mail gateways), the early developers began adopting the term router. Noel Chiappa, who started work on the multiprotocol Proteon router in 1980, points out that even IETF RFC 1009 ("Requirements for Internet Gateways") in June 1987 used the term router throughout. At that point, the transition from gateway to router was officially under way.

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Ellen Messmer

Network World

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