Paul Kocher, 26
Can you keep a secret? Paul Kocher can. As a leading cryptographer, he is helping make the Internet safer for business transactions and personal information. As more business is conducted on the Net, the need for online privacy grows apace. As a result, cryptography--making and breaking codes--is becoming central to the Web’s further development. Paul Kocher is among the handful of people who are making significant contributions. Among Kocher’s accomplishments is the formulation
of a method to defeat RSA encryption, one of the most widely used forms of securing transactions. (Breaking existing codes is part of a cryptographer’s job description.) He is also one of the designers of the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) 3.0 protocol, which many Web sites use to encrypt and authenticate credit information.
Kocher’s career shows how innovators are able to cross disciplinary lines: Although his bachelor’s degree from Stanford is in biology, he taught himself everything he’s needed to know about computers. He’s also an entrepreneur: founder, president and chief scientist of Cryptography Research as well as cofounder and chief scientist of ValiCert. His lack of academic credentials in computing hasn’t stymied his career. Says professor emeritus Martin Hellman at Stanford: "He knew more than most people who had completed PhDs in the area. When people call me for consulting, Paul is my first recommendation."