R. A. Hettinga on Fri, 30 Nov 2001 22:37:05 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> R.I.P. Cypherpunks [2x]

Table of Contents:

   R.I.P. Cypherpunks                                                              
     "R. A. Hettinga" <rah@shipwright.com>(by way of Felix Stalder)                  

   Tim May: Rumors of the death of Cypherpunks are greatly  exaggerated            
     "R. A. Hettinga" <rah@shipwright.com>(by way of Felix Stalder)   


Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2001 10:15:20 -0500
From: "R. A. Hettinga" <rah@shipwright.com>(by way of Felix Stalder)
Subject: R.I.P. Cypherpunks

...and long live cypherpunks, of course, which, for years now, has existed
on a distributed network of un-killable lists, like some feral form of
Usenet, complete with obscene body piercings, matted hair, bad breath and
sharp, pointy teeth...

Send "info cypherpunks" in the body of a message to majordomo@lne.com for
details on how the cypherpunks distributed remailer system works now...


- ------


R.I.P. Cypherpunks

Once the online haunt of top cryptographers, the Cypherpunks list was
characterized by its mix of revolutionary politics and advanced
mathematics. This week, a founder pronounced it dead and buried

By Will Rodger
Nov 29 2001 10:15AM PT

The Cypherpunks list, an online forum that in many ways defined Internet
activism, was booted unceremoniously from its original home, toad.com,
earlier this week.

In an open posting to several mailing lists, Cypherpunks veteran John
Gilmore all but dismissed the computer-security and privacy forum he
co-founded in the early 1990s. It had, he wrote, "degenerated a long time
ago to the point where I have no idea why more than 500 people are still
receiving it every day."

Yet, for all the irrelevant comments, vicious infighting and radical
libertarian politics that flourish on the list, Cypherpunks has chronicled
every important event in the short history of modern cryptography, as well
as the cyber-rights movement that grew out of it.

The mailing list spawned not just commerce but an entire philosophy.
Members vanquished U.S. controls on cryptography exports, and opened up a
wider dialogue about the use and misuse of technology.

"Cypherpunks has really advanced the state of the art," said Peter Wayner,
a cryptographer who vetted every one of his eight books on programming and
technology on the list. "One of the greatest advantages is so many people
are not constrained by non-disclosure agreements or the need to keep their

Seemingly every major figure in cryptography and computer security has
passed through the list from time to time. Past participants include noted
cryptographers such as Matt Blaze and Adam Shostack, computer firewall
inventor Steven Bellovin, and the first developer of a commercial
firewall, Marcus Ranum.

Some say it was the Clipper Chip that made it all possible.

In 1992 the Clinton Administration revived an earlier Bush Administration
proposal to, in effect, regulate all data-scrambling technology used in
the U.S. The so-called Clipper Chip would have "escrowed" encryption keys
that ordinary citizens used. If police ever encountered encrypted email or
other data they could not decipher, they could monitor those
communications under "legal authority."

A storm of controversy followed. Businesses said the proposal undermined
U.S. products in a world market that required no such "key escrow." Civil
libertarians predicted massive email snooping once the Internet took hold.

Hundreds of smart but worried programmers flocked to Cypherpunks. They
learned about not just encryption, but digital cash, anonymous remailers
capable of sending messages without a discernible return address, even
"black nets" that would use all three together to form a perfect black
market with worldwide reach.

Some reveled in the idea of "crypto-anarchy." Others went to work.

Lance Cottrell, then a graduate student at the University of California at
San Diego, joined the list because he wanted to fight the Clipper Chip.
Energized and excited by a field that was new to him, he soon went to work
on what became the Mixmaster remailer, which solved many security
vulnerabilities in traditional remailers.

"It earned me a reputation," Cottrell says today. "I was one of the people
who had gone out and done something about it, instead of just talking
about it."

Publicists now hawk his Anonymizer.com as one of the rare Internet-only
companies that actually turns a profit.

Adam Shostack, a top cryptographers at Zero-Knowledge Systems in Montreal,
earned his chops at Cypherpunks, too.

"Smart People with Cool Ideas" Back in 1992, Shostack was a lowly systems
administrator at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital just beginning to
learn about computer security. His interest in firewalls led him to the
list, and from there to contacts throughout the computer-security
community. Soon he had learned enough to publish an early critique of
secure log-in technology sold by Security Dynamics. Along the way,
Shostack met Matt Blaze an early debunker of the Clipper Chip's flawed
security, as well as Adam Back and Ian Goldberg, each of whom had
discovered serious problems with credit-card security in early versions of
the Netscape browser.

The work helped Shostack land the job at ZKS.

"It was involving," he says today. "There were lots of really smart people
playing with these really cool ideas. As a young guy who was just getting
into this stuff, it was a great way to really jump in. I'm not saying it
was polite or easy we all did our share of roasting one another, but the
ideas really overcame that."

Architect John Young found a new outlet for his political leanings through
Cypherpunks, and in the process started one of the most closely followed
archives on the Net.

Young was fascinated by the interplay of the civil and governmental on the
list. The dynamic of intellectuals pitted against federal watchmen
reminded him of his days as a 60s radical at Columbia University.
Cypherpunks and the Internet gave him a new chance to follow in the
footsteps of the time. Soon, he was publishing classified and formerly
classified documents about encryption and surveillance at

Over the years, documents from the FBI, NSA, CIA, British intelligence and
a multitude of other sources have landed at his Web site. Major newspapers
and television networks have picked up and run with the documents.

His archives also feature a long list of legal documents revolving around
the fight to unseat copyright laws, like the Digital Millennium Copyright
Act, that limit what consumers can do with materials they buy. Research
itself, Young says, is threatened in fights over copying technologies like
Napster, and tools designed to crack copy-protection schemes.

Like John Gilmore, Young concedes the Cypherpunks list has lost something
it once had. But unlike Gilmore, he thinks it is still valuable.

Other, moderated fora like the popular Cryptography mailing list cannot
equal the spontaneity of thought found on Cypherpunks, even today, he
says. "These lists have more or less withered under moderation, but things
continue to happen under Cypherpunks. These other ones get so serious and
important sounding people walk away. They forget the Net is supposed to be
entertaining as well as educational."

The Cypherpunks list will continue to be hosted on other sites, but many
participants agree that the ejection from its birthplace is a moribund

Wayner, for his part, says many, more conventional lists sprang from
Cypherpunks because one list simply could not do it all. That, he said, is
a tribute in itself.

"The main reason the list doesn't seem to have the center of gravity
anymore is the topic has gotten so big and gone in so many directions,"
Wayner says. "It used to be you could read maybe (the newsgroup)
comp.risks and Cypherpunks and you had read all there was. Now there are
so many things going on it can't be the center of gravity, it can't be the
center of all things."


Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2001 10:15:52 -0500
From: "R. A. Hettinga" <rah@shipwright.com>
Subject: Tim May: Rumors of the death of Cypherpunks are greatly  exaggerated

- --- begin forwarded text

Status:  U
Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 14:19:44 -0800
Subject: Rumors of the death of Cypherpunks are greatly exaggerated
From: Tim May <tcmay@got.net>
To: cypherpunks@lne.com
Sender: owner-cypherpunks@lne.com

On Thursday, November 29, 2001, at 01:47 PM, measl@mfn.org wrote:

> On Thu, 29 Nov 2001, Jim Choate wrote:
>> On Thu, 29 Nov 2001 measl@mfn.org wrote:
>>> http://www.securityfocus.com/news/294
>>> "Once the online haunt of top cryptographers, the Cypherpunks list was
>>> characterized by its mix of revolutionary politics and advanced
>>> mathematics. This week, a founder pronounced it dead and buried"
>> Somebody should tell the other seven (7) nodes (on 2 continents).
> That was, of course, my point :-)

The article is not a bad one, and actually makes some good points.
Predictably, the headline is lurid and derogatory.

Fact is, lists and other fora have lifecycles just like anything else. The
peak for the list was no doubt in the 1993-4 period, when Clipper was hot
news, and when many ideas were being exposed to lots of others for the
first time. By 1995, there were already schism lists forming, lists with
allegedly higher-minded goals. And the original focus of the list, the
deployment of various crypto protocols, began to drift into areas of
copyright issues, legal battles, and weirdnesses from Parker, Bell, Vulis,
and others. Other lists also covered much of the same material, and some
no doubt flocked to the "moderated" forums maintained by Lewis McCarthy
(who?), Perry Metzger, Declan McCullagh, and others.

Not for me. I favor not having some nanny deciding what I can post.

(Eric Murray's lne.com policies I have nothing against. In fact, he
implemented his list shortly after I posted an article outlining similar
reasonable policies: only subscribers to one of the CDR lists have their
articles go through, plus all articles through remailers. This should, and
did, cut out 98% of the spam and "hit and run" posts.)

As for John Gilmore, I wish him the best. But let us face reality: John
was never an active poster on the list even in the 1992-94 period. Check
the archives if you doubt me. No doubt he had other projects occupying
this time. But let's not kid ourselves that it was "his" list. In fact,
the genesis of the mailing list took place on the Sunday after the
Saturday original Cypherpunks gathering. Eric Hughes, Hugh Daniel, and I
were walking to a Noah's Bagel in Oakland and talking about how to keep
the spirit of the previous day's meeting going. Eric or Hugh suggested a
mailing list, and Hugh said he could set it up to run on some machine or
another, probably the Hoptoad machine that John Gilmore owned. John gave
his permission and the list started about a week or two after the first

Anyway, to those who wander away because the owner of "toad.com," a site
that is not even part of the regular CDR system, declares us irrelevant I
have just one message: good riddance.

I don't expect the list to ever have the significance it had in the glory
years, but I find it a better mix of topics than most other lists. Fact
is, most other lists are the private fiefdoms of their owners, whether
Lewispunks (coderpunks) or Perrypunks (cryptography) or one of any number
of other such lists ("Interesting People," "Politech," etc.).

And several of these lists are avowedly "non-political." How absurd.
What's the point of a crypto list if there's no political angle? Yeah,
maybe a handful of people want to chat about pure math and programming
tricks...but not a lot, judging by the very low volumes of such
discussions even on the "non-political" lists. And without political
issues, what's the motivation to even talk about remailers, data havens,
digital cash, etc.?

Fact is, a _lot_ of people on all lists, on the Net, are losing sight of
"why we fight."

While we don't need politics of the Democrat vs. Republican kind, or even
the libertarian vs. socialist kind, without some goals about where crypto
can take us there is not much left except obscure debates about Rijndael
and elliptic curves and other applied number theory obscuria.

One of the lifecycle aspects of all lists is boredom. Those who found the
Cypherpunks ideas exciting in 1994 moved on a few years later. Some joined
companies, some even formed companies.

All predictable.

The fact that John is now pulling the plug is one of the few surprises of
recent years....I thought his site at toad had gone away several years
ago! That's when he announced he was shutting it down. That he let it
dribble on a dumping ground for those not smart enough to find the
cyberpass.net, algebra.com, sunder.net, lne.com, or Choate's site doesn't
mean his node was "the list."

The more things change...

So, I wish him well. I am thankful that he let Hugh Daniel host the list
on one of his machines in the 1992-96 period. But rumors of the death of
Cypherpunks are greatly exaggerated.

- --Tim May

- --- end forwarded text

- --
- -----------------
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah@ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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