What is a Cypherpunk?

An intensive examination of Bitcoin ooner or later leads into the dark origins of the Internet. Satoshi Nakamoto first published his Bitcoin White Paper on the mailing list of “Cypherpunks”. 

Cypherpunk is any activist who represents the widespread use of strong cryptography and privacy-protective technologies as a vehicle for social and political change.

Since the late 1980s, there has been an informal group of individuals who are coordinating via an e-mail list in order to fulfill the above purpose. This movement was favored by the discovery of asymmetric cryptography by Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman. The asymmetry means that one no longer uses the same password for encrypting and decrypting data, but has two passwords. One is used only for encryption, this password is often called “public key”. The other is used only for decryption, also called “private key”. This discovery made it possible to exchange messages over insecure communication channels and to be sure that no middleman could overhear the communication traffic.

Private / public-key cryptography is also abbreviated using the letters PGP. These stand for Pretty Good Privacy. To decrypt such a message is almost impossible.

In the early 1990s, the Cypherpunk movement received formal ideology. Three individuals, Eric Hughes, Timothy C. May and John Gilmore, hold regular meetings in a small group in the San Francisco area. The name “Cypherpunk” was created based on the “Cryptoanarchy Wiki”, a dystopian direction of science fiction literature.


In 1992, Timothy C. May wrote “Cryptoanarchy Wiki,” predicting a world that would be shaped by technological advances. May was particularly motivated by libertarian ideas as by Ayn Rand. His colleague Eric Hughes wrote “Cryptoanarchy Wiki” the following year. A cyperpunk for Hughes is someone who programs to protect people’s privacy.

The Cypherpunk mailing list attracted many talented and famous people. For example, the Australian hacker and journalist Julian Assange, who founded the WikiLeaks disclosure platform in 2006 and has been detained since 2012 at the Embassy of Ecuador in London. Or Nick Szabo, who is a well-known personality of the Bitcoin community.

Last but not least, Satoshi Nakamoto found himself among the Cypherpunks and in 2008 published his legendary White Paper on a “Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash Network”. With that, Satoshi Nakamoto realized a dream the Cypherpunks had cherished since early days: an electronic, state-independent means of payment for the digital world.

The existence of the Cypherpunks, the small movement from San Francisco, has made itself felt. The thought has been propagated worldwide and has found followers. Coordinated by the mailing list and strong cryptography in the arsenal, the Cypherpunks have managed not only to remain relevant, but to take further steps. With the invention of Bitcoins, another milestone has been set, which also causes a sensation in the established world.

It is likely that the Cypherpunks continue to actively pursue their dream of a private world and provide new technological innovations. In conclusion, it is clear that this is not a malicious or even terrorist organization. The desire for privacy is not a crime. Finally, a look into the German past of the GDR shows that surveillance is mostly abused for political purposes.

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