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Picture yourself in the Cypherpunk Mafia

A list of the cryptography pioneers that secured the internet

gm creators!

I hope all of you are having an amazing Saturday.

Yesterday I wrote a fun post on the origins of steganography, the practice of hiding messages in plain sight.

One of the earliest examples of steganography is in 440 BC when a local Greek ruler wanted to secretly send a message?

He shaved his slave's hair, wrote a message on his head, and waited for the hair to grow back before sending the slave to the intended receiver!

Check out the full post here:

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Today at a Glance

If you've read my post on Bell Labs & Fairchild Semiconductor, you know that I'm obsessed with the tech mafias that have formed over the last few generations of tech.

Most of us know about the PayPal mafia and how they were a huge force in developing the popular consumer internet products.

But what about the cypherpunk mafia? They're the ones who revolutionized internet security.

Today, I wrote up a list of cryptographers that I think anyone active in the internet industry should know.

Without them, the internet would have a tenth of the functionality it does today.

In case you missed it, check out my deep dive on the start of the cypherpunk SF meetups and mailing list from the early '90s.

Most of the brilliant minds listed below all came from that list.

Let's dive in 🚀

The Cypherpunk Mafia

David Chaum

  • Considered the godfather of the cypherpunk movement

  • Inventor DigiCash, an early form of digital money

David Chaum

Whitfield Diffie, Ralph Merkle, & Martin Hellman

  • Co-inventors of public-key cryptography

  • Researchers at Stanford (Merkle was a student)

  • Diffie Hellman key exchange

  • Merkle-Hellman Knapsack Cryptosystem

Merkle, Hellman, Diffie

Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, & Leonard Adleman

  • Co-inventors of RSA, the first widely used public key encryption system

  • Researchers at MIT

Shami, Rivest, Adleman

Phil Zimmermann: The creator of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), one of the most widely used email encryption software in the world.

Cynthia Dwork and Moni Naor: designed the proof-of-work system (used in Bitcoin today)

Cynthia Dwork

Hal Finney: An early Bitcoin contributor and the receiver of the first Bitcoin transaction.

Nick Szabo:

  • Proposed the idea of "smart contracts"

  • Designed "Bit Gold," which many consider a precursor to Bitcoin

Jude Milhon (St. Jude): coined the term "cypherpunk" and was an early proponent of the movement. Played a huge role in bringing women to the field of computer science.

Adam Back: Inventor of Hashcash, a proof-of-work system used in various anti-spam systems.

Timothy C. May, Eric Hughes & John Gilmore:

  • Organizers of the first cypherpunk meetups

  • Started the cypherpunk e-mail list in 1992, the most important forum to get the cryptography movement kickstarted

  • May wrote the "The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto"

  • Hughes coined "Cypherpunks write code" and wrote the "Cypherpunk manifesto"

  • Gilmore hosted the meetups at his office in SF and hosted the anonymous email list on toad (dot) com

Zooko Wilcox-O'Hearn: A cypherpunk and the founder of Zcash, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency.

Wei Dai: Designed “b-money,” an early proposal for digital money that played a huge influence on bitcoin

Julian Assange: Founder of WikiLeaks, and although more controversial, his work has strong ties to the cypherpunk movement through his strong stance on privacy and government transparency.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list, I simply went through some of my notes and got a few names down on paper. I'm sure there are dozens of other people that played a huge role in shaping the field of cryptography.

I'm excited to go through the stories of each of these geniuses in the next few weeks. Their journeys are so interesting to me. And the fact that they were thinking about digital privacy this early in the history of the internet is mind-blowing. How did they see this coming before the rest of the world?

That's all for today's post - if you enjoyed, I'd love for you to share with your friends in crypto :)

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