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Picture yourself becoming a crypto historian

Re-learning crypto from first principles and taking a historical approach

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Yesterday, I wrote a quick post on cryptography literature. I made a list of 25 must read books on crypto across multiple genres such as fiction, biographies, ethical cryptography, etc.

Check the post out here.

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Today at a Glance 👓

Today I put out a cast on Farcaster asking if anyone had suggestions for rabbit holes to go down relating to the history of cryptography.

I made a list of the answers I got in the post. Over the next couple of days, I'm going to use these topics as starting points of things to write about related to this subject.

Let's dive in 🚀

Crypto History Rabbitholes

I added some bullet points from ChatGPT

Clipper Chip and encryption being illegal to export in early versions of Netscape

  • Introduced in the 1990s, the Clipper Chip was a U.S. government initiative to ensure "backdoor" access to encrypted communications.

  • Netscape's early browsers had weaker encryption for international versions due to U.S. crypto export restrictions.


  • An annual convention, Defcon is one of the world's largest and most notable hacker conventions.

  • Renowned for its "capture the flag" cybersecurity competitions, talks, and live demonstrations.

The arms control fight over textbooks in the 90s

  • Controversy arose over the public dissemination of cryptographic techniques, with opponents likening them to "munitions" exports.

  • Led to significant debates over freedom of speech and national security implications.


  • Enigma: The encryption machine used by the Nazis during World War II, thought to be unbreakable.

  • Alan Turing, a British mathematician, played a pivotal role in breaking the Enigma cipher, significantly influencing the outcome of the war.

Byzantine generals from a historical lens

  • An illustrative problem in distributed computing, it portrays the challenges of achieving consensus in a system with potentially treacherous components.

  • Has historical roots related to the problem of traitorous generals in the Byzantine Empire.

Crypto export laws

  • Historically, strong cryptographic techniques were considered munitions and faced export restrictions from the U.S.

  • This led to a global disparity in encryption strength and significant policy debates in the 1990s.

The generations of NSA influence

  • Earlier, the NSA provided guidance to strengthen public crypto, such as the modifications to the DES S-boxes.

  • Later concerns arose over potential backdoors, especially with revelations about the EC DRBG random number generator and NIST elliptic curves.

How safe is commonly used cryptography?

  • Modern cryptographic algorithms like AES are widely considered secure when implemented and used correctly.

  • However, real-world vulnerabilities often stem from faulty implementations or system configurations.

Claude Shannon & Information Theory

  • Claude Shannon, the "father of modern digital communication & information theory," established the mathematical basis for cryptography.

  • His landmark 1948 paper, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication," laid the foundation for modern cryptography and data compression.

Bell Labs

  • A research hub that has been at the forefront of numerous technological innovations, including UNIX, C programming, and the transistor.

  • Played a pivotal role in the advancement of telecommunications and computing research.


  • DES (Data Encryption Standard) was the U.S. federal encryption standard from the mid-1970s until it was replaced by AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) in the early 2000s.

  • AES, with its robust security and efficiency, is the go-to encryption standard for a wide array of security-critical applications today.

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