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Do you really know the history of the Cypherpunks?

If Satoshi Nakamoto has always been considered the father of Bitcoin (and therefore cryptos), you should know that he was inspired by the first attempts of Cypherpunks. The latter would be the real precursors of cryptocurrencies and cryptography protocols. But who are they? What is their story? What are their goals? Here are some elements of the answer.

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The Cypherpunks, digital activists

Cypherpunks are still little known to the general public. And yet, this group, which has now become a large movement, is behind many concepts, especially that of cryptography. It is basically a group of computer scientists of about twenty members, focused on the defense of online privacy and the protection of privacy. And this, while the Internet was still in its infancy. This small visionary community was born in the 90s, in California.

The group was formed under the impetus of three computer geniuses. There is Eric Hughes, an eminent American mathematician and computer programmer. And then Timothy May (aka Tim May), a brilliant computer technician, ideological writer and electronics engineer. The third founder is named John Gilmore. Among other things, he is known for founding the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace.

David Chaum is another major member of cypherpunks. This one has developed many cryptographic protocols. He has also written an article dealing with the concepts of anonymous digital money. His article entitled “Security Without Identification: Transaction Systems to Make Big Brother Obsolete” was published in 1985. It also deals with the anonymization protocols that underlie blockchain technology.

The manifesto of a Cypherpunks and the mailing list

The manifesto of a Cypherpunk.

Already at that time, the group was convinced that the Internet would become a central element of society. And as soon as the governments have understood this freedom, they will come to co-opt this space, will monitor it and will apply censorship policies. In the face of which, Cypherpunks are actively working to make networks safer for confidentiality and privacy. For them, only one tool could ensure Internet freedom: cryptography. With encryption, governments would not be able to exercise their power over individuals.

This vision is recorded in a manifesto written by Eric Hughes and published in 1993. « Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and we’re going to write it “, he declares. He adds: “Cryptography will inevitably spread throughout the globe, and with it the anonymous transaction systems that it makes possible”.

The group also shares its thoughts via its mailing list. This space created in 1992 has also made it possible to expand the scope of Cypherpunks. The list is still active. The platform today allows the development of cryptographic projects in all corners of the world. PGP, RSA or Diffie-Hellman encryption systems, the first cryptocurrency trials, SSL and HTTPS protocols … All have been published on this list.

A precursor group of cryptocurrencies

The members of cypherpunks have already conceptualized cryptocurrencies long before the phenomenon Bitcoin (BTC). David Chaum launched in 1990 the first serious attempt to create a private digital currency: DigiCash. This is the first use of software-only electronic payment technology. The currency made it possible to carry out transactions in small quantities between people who did not have a bank account or credit card. A revolution!

Cypherpunks, precursors of cryptocurrencies

In 1997, Adam Back described on the mailing list a process that is similar to the proof of work that underlies the Bitcoin blockchain. A year later, Wei Dai also disseminates his method on how to exchange money and enforce contracts that were distributed among a network of users. Thanks to this process, the intervention of a third party for transactions becomes unnecessary. Like the Bitcoin blockchain, his idea included a way for participants to create money through computer effort.

These virtual currencies have not been viable. Nevertheless, each of these protocols laid the foundation stone for cryptos as they are today. On this point, Wei Dai states: ” The protocol can probably be made more efficient and safer, but I hope this is a step towards turning crypto-anarchy into a practical and theoretical possibility ». Almost a decade later, Satoshi Nakamoto launches Bitcoin.

As true visionaries, the Cypherpunks have foreseen some of the biggest problems that Internet users face today. These include privacy and anonymity within a largely insecure and public infrastructure. They also laid the foundation for the creation of cryptocurrency. And all this, thanks to cryptography.

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Elina Samsudina avatar
Elina Samsudin

I stumble into the cryptosphere by chance and attend the
birth of a new era, that of the DeFi. It’s all about freedom
economic, transparency and opportunities accessible to all. Here’s a
a universe that deserves to be known.

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