Sumit BeraTue, Jun 9, 2020 11:00 AM
Cypherpunk: History, Personalities, And Spread Of Its Ideas
In this review, we tell how the ideas of cypherpunk were born, how they influenced cryptocurrencies, and modern technologies, who formed the basis and why its popularity these days has grown again.
From the early days to today: the chronology of key events of the cypherpunk
In the early 1970s, James Ellis of the UK Government Communications Center put forward the concept of public-key cryptography. In the early 1980s, small groups of hackers, mathematicians and cryptographers began working on the realization of this idea. One of them was an American cryptographer, Ph.D. David Chaum, who is sometimes called the godfather of cypherpunk. This new culture has proclaimed computer technology as a means of destroying state power and centralized management systems.
Key figure among the cypherpunk of the 80s — Intel specialist Timothy C. May. His dream was to create a global system that allows anonymous exchange of information. He created the concept of the BlackNet system. In September 1988, May wrote The Crypto-Anarchist Manifesto: people themselves, without politicians, manage their lives, use cryptography, use digital currencies, and other decentralized tools.
In 1989, David Chaum founded DigiCash an eCash digital money system with its CyberBucks and with the blind digital signature technology.
Since 1992, Timothy May, John Gilmore (Electronic Frontier Foundation), and Eric Hughes (University of California) have begun holding secret meetings and regular PGP-encrypted mailing through anonymous remailer servers. And finally, in 1993 Eric Hughes published a fundamental document of the movement — А Cypherpunk's Manifesto. The importance of confidentiality, anonymous transactions, cryptographic protection — all these ideas were subsequently implemented in cryptocurrencies.
The term "cypherpunk" was first used by hacker and programmer Jude Milhon to a group of crypto-anarchists.
In 1995, Julian Assange, the creator of WikiLeaks, published his first post in cypherpunk mailing.
In 1996, John Young and Deborah Natsios created the Cryptome, which published data related to security, privacy, freedom, cryptography. It is here that subsequently will be published data from the famous Edward Snowden.
In 1997, cryptographer Dr. Adam Back (you know him as CEO of Blockstream) created Hashcash, a distributed anti-spam mechanism.
In 1998, computer engineer Wei Dai published two concepts for creating a b-money digital payment system:
- Each member of the system has a copy of the system database with user funds balances (this idea found itself in Bitcoin).
- Distributed base, but not everyone has a copy. To maintain the integrity of participants, deposits, fines, and incentives are provided. This was later implemented in the Proof-of-Stake consensus algorithm.
In April 2001, Bram Cohen developed the BitTorrent protocol and application.
In 2002, Paul Syverson, Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson presented the alpha version of the anonymity network named TOR Project.
In 2004, cypherpunk Hal Finney created the Reusable Proof of Work (RPoW) algorithm. It was based on Adam Back's Hashcash but its drawback was centralization.
In 2005, cryptographer Nick Szabo, who developed the concept of smart contracts in the 1990s, announced the creation of Bit Gold — a digital collectible and investment item.
In October 2008, legendary Satoshi Nakamoto created the manifesto “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”, which refers to the works of the cypherpunk classics Adam Back and Wei Dai.
In 2011, Ross William Ulbricht aka Dread Pirate Roberts created the Silk Road, the first major market for illegal goods and services on the darknet.
In 2016, Julian Assange released the book "Cypherpunks: Freedom and the future of the Internet."
At the beginning of 2018, Pavel Durov, the creator of Telegram, announced the launch of the TON multi-blockchain platform and mentioned his plans to launch TON ICO.
In 2019, the Tor Project introduced an open anti-censorship group.
Plenty of services, products, and technologies were inspired by cypherpunk: Cryptocurrencies, HD (Hierarchical Deterministic) crypto wallets, Coin Mixers, ECDHM addresses, Privacy Coins. The ideas of distribution and anonymity were also implemented in the torrents and VPN. You can see the embodiment of cybersecurity ideas in the electronic signatures and protected messengers (Telegram, Signal, and many others).
Why there was so many talks about cypherpunk this spring? In April 2020, Reddit users suggested that the letter from the famous cypherpunks mailing dated September 19, 1999, was written by Satoshi Nakamoto himself (or someone close to him). This letter is about the functioning of ecash. Anonymous (supposed Satoshi) talks about the "public double-spending database" and Wei Dai's b-money as a possible foundation for ecash.
In addition, researchers of the mystery "Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?" periodically make some noise and discover the next "secret" about one or another legendary cypherpunk. So, in May 2020, Adam Back wrote in response to videos and new hype discussions that, despite some coincidences, he is not Satoshi.
Other heroes of the scene are not idle too: in April 2020, David Chaum received $9.7 million during the presale of the confidential coin xx, created to encourage venture investors.
As you can see from the Satoshi Nakamoto's mentions and from the stories of DigiCash, Hashcash, RPoW, Bit Gold, the movement of cypherpunk influenced a lot the emergence of cryptocurrencies. As governments and corporations restrict freedom and interfere with confidentiality, cypherpunk ideas will periodically rise in popularity. And this confrontation will not end in the coming decades.