What is a Cypherpunk?

Tiempo de lectura: 4 minutos

In the world of cryptocurrencies, you’ve probably heard of Cypherpunk. Maybe you have an idea of what it is or maybe not. Today we will tell you all about this very interesting movement.

When we talk about Cypherpunk we refer to a movement without a specific leader. This movement defended the use of cryptography to guarantee the security and privacy of all digital users.

On the other hand we have a cypherpunk. This would be the way to call an activist who defends this movement. Using the best of cryptography and technological advances to protect others, this is what cypherpunks stand for.

History of the Cypherpunk movement

With the advent of the Internet, it was understood that, far from being intended as a secure system, the Internet was designed as a precise tool. Not at all a method of protection. Among the first fighters to push for security was Ralph Merkle, creator of the famous Merkle tree.

Despite his young age, he was able to create the foundations of cryptographic systems that are still in use today. One of his main creations was the first asymmetric cryptographic system. Merkle’s work was joined by Martin Hellman and Diffie. Between them, these three developers created the first publicly available cryptographic systems.

It was at this stage that the Cypherpunk movement began to take shape, when its development finally had a great deal of weight on which to build.


Apparition of the Cypherpunks

Although the technology made great strides in the 70´s, it was not enough for the specialists. At that time DES (Data Encryption Standard) fell short of the large number of security applications that were pending. Being such an early stage for the technology, the low computational power complicated the implementation of new developments in asymmetric cryptographic systems.

In spite of so many difficulties, all those interested in promoting the development of the system continued to look for new ways to evolve. By the end of the 80´s, the ARPANET had become a major worldwide information network.

With all the development boom, brilliant personalities such as David Chaum or Silvio Micali began to stand out. They focused on the development of cryptography. Although there were many who clung to this development, Chaum stood out for being the most rebellious and for seeking the maximum of technology.

At this time he was in the midst of a struggle between government control and the defense of people’s freedom. Since the only means to drive this security was cryptography, he set about creating highly secure systems. These included blind signatures, cryptographic credentials and group signatures.

This is how David Chaum became the first cypherpunk in history. The name Cypherpunk started to be heard in the mid 80’s when cryptography was barely known by spies and governments. At that time people were beginning to know the term cryptography and wanted to take it to applications in situations beyond the military. Being the beginning of new technologies, a method of data protection was needed.

The decade of the 90’s

When the 90’s arrived, the Internet that we use every day was already known. This network, nothing comparable to the one we use today, was already active all over the world. Impossibilities such as sharing information from anywhere were already feasible.

The term was finally coined in 1992. It emerged as a play on words during a meeting of a group formed by Tim May, John Gilmore and Eric Hughes. “Cypherpunk” is the union formed by prominent activist Jude Milhon. The word is divided between “Cypher” for cypher and “Punk” for rebel. If we translate it into Spanish we understand the name of the group as “rebels of the cipher“.

In this meeting there were about thirty people discussing privacy, anonymity, politics, among other topics. During these years the internet had advanced so much that mail already existed. Not only did it exist, but it was also used as a space to debate and meet. Thanks to this technological advance, the Cypherpunk mailing list was created at this meeting.

On this list of over 2000 subscribers were figures such as Adam Back, Nick Szabo, Jude Milhon, among many others. This list became the table on which a multitude of cryptography projects were created. From 1992 to the present, this list has participated in the creation of projects such as Open Privacy or the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Not only was it involved in projects, but it was also the base where the “Cryptoanarchist Manifesto” and “Cyphernomicon” were created. Other blockchain oriented developments such as the HashCash created by Adam Back also took place there.

Footprints of the Cypherpunks

Now that we know the history of the cypherpunks, we can start with the traces they have left in technology. Below we will look at their main achievements:

  • The Internet. Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, was a well-known member of the cypherpunk movement. Throughout his life, he advocated the use of data worldwide. His idea was a network accessible to all users beyond the government.
  • Remote access. When the Internet was created, remote access was one of the main requirements for its proper functioning. Protocols such as FTP and Telnet were created, but they were not secure enough. The solution to the problem came with Tatu Ylönen when he created the SSH protocol. This is how it ended up becoming the default protocol for remote connection on the Internet. Thanks to the high security it provides, it is still the most widely used protocol today.
  • Defense of rights. The creation of EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) marked a new stage in digital rights. This achievement is attributed to Mitch Kapor, John Gilmore and John Perry Barlow. Three members of the Cypherpunk movement who, like many others, fought for digital rights.

This was not the only achievement regarding digital rights. The Free Software Foundation founded by Richard Stallman was also a digital rights oriented organization. Its main goal was to maintain the source code of all programs in order to create total freedom for users who wanted to modify them.

After this tour through the Cypherpunk history, you will have noticed that there are many reasons to thank this group of people who have done so much for our freedom. This article is a small thank you to each one of those who have been or are part of this exciting movement, thank you very much Cypherpunks!

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