Cypherpunks and the Crypto Wars

8 minute read

A Resource for learning about the Cypherpunk Movement.

This repository was created, in part while researching:

Crypto Wars

  • Birth of Cypherpunks: Short
  • Untold History of Blockchain
    • Phil Zimmerman creates PGP(‘91), the first publicly available encryption allowing people to communicate using 128-bit encryption and Diffie-Hellman for key management. Zimmerman published PGP code in book form to strengthen its case as freedom ofspeech.
    • Open Source software development
    • Peer to peer sharing
  • Crypto Wars, Phil Zimmermann and PGP

    Phil Zimmermann was a key player in this period. The PGP software he authored was considered as munitions by the US government and subject to export licenses. The US government at this time was keen to avoid strong crypto falling into the hands of civilians and foreign governments. At this time the US government was also pushing for specialised key-escrowed chips that would perform encryption, but make the plaintext readable to NSA if necessary. This was rightly considered a gross violation of privacy, rights, and a huge security hole by the cypherpunks.

  • Why I Wrote PGP -Part of the Original 1991 PGP User’s Guide
  • Defending the last missing pixels: Phil Zimmermann speaks out on encryption, privacy, and avoiding a surveillance state

    Since writing the PGP encryption software in the 1990s, Phil Zimmermann has been a key figure in the internet privacy debate. With that argument heating up again, his perspective is more relevant than ever.

  • Bernstein vs US Dept of Justice (Decided in ‘96)

    While a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, Bernstein completed the development of an encryption equation (an “algorithm”) he calls “Snuffle.” Bernstein wishes to publish a) the algorithm (b) a mathematical paper describing and explaining the algorithm and (c) the “source code” for a computer program that incorporates the algorithm. Bernstein also wishes to discuss these items at mathematical conferences, college classrooms and other open public meetings. The Arms Export Control Act and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (the ITAR regulatory scheme) required Bernstein to submit his ideas about cryptography to the government for review, to register as an arms dealer, and to apply for and obtain from the government a license to publish his ideas. Failure to do so would result in severe civil and criminal penalties. Bernstein believes this is a violation of his First Amendment rights and has sued the government.

  • Code Wars — How ‘Ultra’ and ‘Magic’ Led to Allied Victory

    When the top secret code breaking activities at Bletchley Park were revealed in the 1970s, much of the history of the Second World War had to be rewritten. Code Wars examines the role of ULTRA (the intelligence derived from breaking secret enemy signals) on major events of the Second World War. It examines how it influenced the outcome of key battles such as D-Day, El Alamein, Crete, key naval battles, the controversy surrounding Churchill and Coventry, the shadowing of Hitler’s V1 pilotless aircraft and the V2 rocket.,_Freedom_and_Privacy

Cypherpunk Mailinglist

* Resources roughly in historical order, either by date of publication or story told.

  • Cypherpunks, Bitcoin & the Myth of Satoshi Nakamoto (‘13)

    The Cypherpunks began properly in 1992 when Tim May, Eric Hughes and John Gilmore, started the Cypherpunks’ mailing list. But Jim Bell, David Chaum, Phil Zimmerman, Julian Assange, Adam Back, Wei-Dai and Hal Finney are just a few of the ciphers on the mailing list who are just now becoming luminaries, because they’ve all contributed something so uniquely valuable to us through their efforts to protect our privacy in the new information economy, particularly against the encroaching financial surveillance complex (typified by FATCA).\ Other names, like Tim-Berners Lee, John Perry Barlow and Nick Szabo also feature in this essay, as ‘Cypherpunks by proxy’ because of their contributions and their philosophy.

  • The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto
    • A specter is haunting the modern world, the specter of crypto anarchy.\ Computer technology is on the verge of providing the ability for individuals and groups to communicate and interact with each other in a totally anonymous manner. -Timothy C. May (‘92)
  • A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto Eric Hughes (‘93)

    Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy. A private matter is something one doesn’t want the whole world to know, but a secret matter is something one doesn’t want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.”

  • Wired - Crypto Rebels (‘93) - Deep Cut
  • THE CYPHERNOMICON: Cypherpunks FAQ and More - 1994 - Tim May[ϟ]
  • \

For more cypherpunk books check out goodreads.

Modern Crypto Wars

What follows is a list of books that were influential upon early cypherpunks. As time goes on, I’ll add more modern material. Also, Cypherpunk is an offshoot of Cyberpunk, as such, there is much overlapp in the culture and cyberpunk literature should be of interest to those trying to delve into the cypherpunk mythos.

  • Crypto, by Steven Levy - Pre-History from the 50’s up to the cypherpunk era.

  • May’s Recommended readings, from cyphernomicon.

    • 1984 by George Orwell ‘49 
    • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand ‘57
    • Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman ‘73
    • The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner ‘75
    • True Names by Vernor Vinge ‘81
    • Security without Identification: Transaction Systems to Make Big Brother Obsolete ‘85
    • Advances in Cryptology by Gilles Brassard ‘90
    • Snow Crash, Neil Stephenson ‘92
    • Applied Cryptography by Bruce Schneier ‘93

many of us have found Vernor Vinge’s “True Names” to be an excellent (and quickly readable) treatment of how things could work in a world of fast, cheap, and secure communication. Other writers have seen things differently (e.g., “Shockwave Rider,” “1984,”,”Snow Crash”). \ — Tim May Cyberspace Crypto-Anarchy and Pushing Limits


    Bitcoin was not forged in a vacuum. These works serve to contextualize Bitcoin into the broader story of cryptography and freedom.

  • This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World’s Information, by Andy Greenberg ‘12

  • Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson. ^^^ Really excellent literary review!

  • The Essential Cyberpunk Reading List ‘15
    • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Cryptonomicon - Neil Stephenson
  • The Diamond Age - Neil Stephenson

  • - this list has a bunch of the early essential blockchain reading


  • A History of Cryptography and the Rise of the CypherPunks #Reading_list

    An excellent history of public-key cryptography and the Cypherpunk Phenomena appears in The cypherpunk revolution a Christian Science Monitor project from July 2016.

    The best history of digital cash is Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and the Blockchain Are Challenging the Global Economic Order by Michael J. Casey and Paul Vigna. Sadly that book; which appeared in 2015 is already dated, but it is still an eye opener.

    There are many excellent books about cryptography and codebreaking in World War II. One of the best is Code Girls by Liza Mundy, which explores the origins of the NSA and American cryptography. Still worth reading is Ronald Lewin’s Ultra Goes to War: The Secret Story; which first publicized the role encryption played in World War II back in 1977.