The key in public key cryptography that you give to everyone possible. Depending on the encryption scheme, the public key can be used to send you private information (credit card numbers, hospital records, national secrets), and/or verify that some data really did come from you (this is digital signing).

Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman are credited with the invention of public-key cryptography.

In 1976, Diffie and Hellman of Stanford University, California, submitted a paper New Directions in Cryptography to the IEEE (Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineering), introducing their idea of public-key algorithms.

"New Directions in Cryptography." Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman. 'IEEE Transactions On Information Theory'. Volume IT-22 Number 6. (Periodical. USA.) November 1976.

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