How a California Banker Received Credit for His Unbreakable Cryptography 130 Years Later

Frank Miller proposed the one-time pad in 1882, but his contributions were only recently recognized

Frank Miller was a banker, which makes it surprising that he made an contribution to cryptography. Now credited as the first person to invent the one-time pad, a simple yet effective way to encrypt a message by shifting each letter by a random number of positions to a new letter in the alphabet, Miller’s achievement would have been lost if it hadn’t been for some fortunate circumstances.

In this month’s IEEE Spectrum article, “The Future of Cybersecurity is the Quantum Number Generator,” authors Carlos Abellán and Valerio Pruneri explain that Miller discussed the one-time pad in his 1882 book Telegraphic Code to Insure Privacy and Secrecy in the Transmission of Telegrams. That means Miller, who lived in Sacramento, California in the late 19th century, was thinking about the one-time pad at least 35 years before the long-assumed inventors, Bell Labs engineer Gilbert S. Vernam and U.S. Army Captain Joseph Mauborgne, proposed the idea.

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