Diffie–Hellman Key Exchange

Diffie–Hellman key exchange (D–H) is a specific method of exchanging cryptographic keys. It is one of the earliest practical examples of key exchange implemented within the field of cryptography. The Diffie–Hellman key exchange method allows two parties that have no prior knowledge of each other to jointly establish a shared secret key over an insecure communications channel. This key can then be used to encrypt subsequent communications using a symmetric key cipher.

The scheme was first published by Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman in 1976, although it had been separately invented a few years earlier within GCHQ, the British signals intelligence agency, by Malcolm J. Williamson but was kept classified. In 2002, Hellman suggested the algorithm be called Diffie–Hellman–Merkle key exchange in recognition of Ralph Merkle's contribution to the invention of public-key cryptography (Hellman, 2002).

Although Diffie–Hellman key agreement itself is an anonymous (non-authenticated) key-agreement protocol, it provides the basis for a variety of authenticated protocols, and is used to provide perfect forward secrecy in Transport Layer Security's ephemeral modes (referred to as EDH or DHE depending on the cipher suite).


The method was followed shortly afterwards by RSA, an implementation of public key cryptography using asymmetric algorithms.

In 2002, Martin Hellman wrote:

The system...has since become known as Diffie–Hellman key exchange. While that system was first described in a paper by Diffie and me, it is a public key distribution system, a concept developed by Merkle, and hence should be called 'Diffie–Hellman–Merkle key exchange' if names are to be associated with it. I hope this small pulpit might help in that endeavor to recognize Merkle's equal contribution to the invention of public key cryptography.

U.S. Patent 4,200,770, now expired, describes the algorithm and credits Hellman, Diffie, and Merkle as inventors.

Read more about Diffie–Hellman Key Exchange:  Description, Operation With More Than Two Parties, Security

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