Who is David Chaum?

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One of the greatest and most important cryptographers in the world is David Lee Chaum. This pioneer of cryptography in the digital world stood out as one of the first developers of tools for privacy protection. In this article we will talk about David Chaum’s life and his main achievements.

History of David Chaum

David’s life began in 1955 in the United States. He studied at the University of Berkley in California. He received his doctorate in 1982 in Computer Science and Business Administration. Chaum was the creator of several cryptographic protocols and the first idea of digital money E-Cash.

Chaum has a long history of work as a teacher, researcher and in the field of cryptography as a developer of cryptographic protocols. In the same year of his graduation he became the founder of the National Association for Cryptographic Research (CAII). This foundation is currently active and is responsible for the organization of academic conferences for cryptographic research.

He held a teaching position in Business Administration at the graduate school of New York University and at the University of California. Chaum was part of a Cryptography research group in Amsterdam at the National Research Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science. 

In 1990 Chaum went a step further with the creation of DigiCash Inc, an electronic money company. In this company he developed E-Cash, which was an improved version of his cryptographic system for digital payments. On this journey Chaum worked with other well-known cryptographers such as Nick Szabo and Eric Hughes.

In 1994 the first World Wide Web conference (WWW94) was held in Geneva, Switzerland. At this conference Chaum demonstrated how its digital payment system, E-Cash, enabled electronic money payments through computers with the use of software.

In 1995 David received the European Information Technology Award. Subsequently in 2004 he became a CAII Fellow and in 2010 he received the RSA Conference award for excellence in the field of mathematics.

Chaum is more than a famous cryptographer, he is also a reference for the Cypherpunk culture and the people who promoted the movement.


Contributions by David Chaum

David Chaum made countless research and project contributions. Projects that, for the most part, are aimed at privacy. Below we will see some of these contributions.

Digital Money

David is popularly and officially known as the creator of digital money. He introduced this concept in an article launched in 1982 with blind signatures. In addition to marking the starting point of cryptocurrencies, this initiative was one of the roots for the Cypherpunk movement. 

Chaum brought to the world the idea of getting digital money from a bank and spending it without it being possible to find the origins of the money or its provenance. In 1988, the idea of allowing offline transactions that enabled double spending became more widely known.

By 1990 the founding of DigitalCash was already a fact. Chaum had set up a cash company in Amsterdam with the aim of commercializing the ideas in his research. 

Reliable Voting System

Among Chaum’s contributions, a large part are directed to voting systems. Among these contributions we find the idea of an end-to-end verifiable system. This idea was created in 1981.

This was a system in which the individual votes of each voter were kept private. In this way anyone could check that they had been counted correctly without putting the identity of any voter at risk. 

The main idea of this system was to allow voters to securely calculate vote totals with their personal computers. By 1991 David released Sure Vote. This system allowed voters to use unreliable voting systems by submitting the vote to a process called “voting code” used in remote voting.

By 1994 he introduced what would become the first in-person voting system where votes are cryptographically verified. These were just a few of the systems David created. Some of his later voting systems were pret a voter, punchscan, and scantegrity.

Blind Signatures

By 1982 the blind signature was introduced for non-traceable payments. In the same article where Chaum introduced the idea of digital cash, he introduced blind signatures. This digital signature is based on ensuring the content of a message before signing it. All this with the objective that the signer cannot read the content.

The blind signature of a message can be verified publicly against the original message, the only problem is that we would leave the message without the signature protection as if it carried a regular digital signature. 

Later in 1989, irrefutable signatures were introduced. These signatures were used in an interactive verification process. This consisted in the fact that the signing user could limit which users could verify this signature.

Finally, in 1991, Chaum introduced, with Eugene, group signatures. These signatures allow a member of a group to sign a message anonymously and on behalf of the entire group. It should be noted that the administrator designated by the group has the ability to revert the anonymity of any signature belonging to a group member.