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Cypherpunks List (fwd)


Happy Thanksgiving!

I sent the following message to the "Extropians" list, a list centered
around discussions of politics, technology, the future, "uploading,"
transhumanism, and the like. (As with our list, they can be subscribed
to with the "-request" form.

Several requests for more information about our list prompted me to
write this summary piece. Inasmuch as our existence has been
publicized in Mondo, on alt.hackers, and in various references in
messages, I felt it appropriate to tell them a few things about what
the list is about. Our address is at the very end of the article, so
there's a minor obstacle for truly casual readers to overcome.

I'm forwarding it to you folks because we've had a lot of new
subscribers ourselves, and they may like to hear some of this stuff.

I apologize to those who are getting this twice.

-Tim May

Forwarded message:
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected] (Timothy C. May)
Subject: Cypherpunks List
Date: Thu, 26 Nov 92 10:51:01 PST

The Cypherpunks List -- A Thanksgiving Message

I guess it's time to say a few words about the "Cypherpunks" list,
which I've referred to several times in the last few months. Eric
Hughes, the list administrator and initial organizer of our first
meeting, has also mentioned the group in several places, and the
latest "Mondo 2000" actually gives the address, so the information's
pretty much out by now.

We've avoided the "cattle call" form of invitation, where public
announcements are made and subscribers flood in. But we also haven't
gone to the other extreme of requiring some puzzle to be solved (as
with posting to "alt.hackers," which usually requires some hacking of
the posting software to "get in.") Cracking a cypher is not a
requirement, though some probably think it should be.

A few points:

* The name "Cypherpunks" started out as a pun by Jude Milhon, an
editor at "Mondo 2000," when she said "You guys are just a bunch of
cypherpunks!" We initially debated calling our informal group
something more staid like "The Cryptography Research Society," partly to
protect ourselves by emphasizing the "research" aspects, but the joke
name stuck. So, like it or not, it's "Cypherpunks." It turns off some,
turns on others. C'est la vie. 

* Note that we have very little to do with the Gibsonesque vision of
punked-out outlaws and virtual reality escapades, though in fact some
of our members are active in Bay Area start-up companies doing VR. I
would say Vernor Vinge's "True Names" is more descriptive of what
we're doing.

* About a hundred or so folks are on the list, including some
journalists (gulp!), and even some "*.mil" sites (!!). But since what
we're doing is strictly "research," we are of course safe.

* The focus is on cryptology, anonymous remailers, hardware support,
PGP, digital cash, "dining cryptographers" nets, and so on. Too much
to recapitulate here.

* By focussing on "research" into these areas, we feel we are safe
against attack by government agencies. Time will tell. These issues of
security, privacy, remailers, digital pseudonyms, etc., are hot topics
in the crypto community, and all we are really doing is applying these
ideas and doing experiments, the better to learn. (Some of the work on
"webs" of trust in PGP systems, on issues with anonymous remailers,
and on the development of "digital reputations" lies in uncharted
territory, that is, we're doing true research.)

* Several Extropians are active on the list, as you may have gathered
from cross-posts and comments.

* Because many of the early members live in the Bay Area (Northern
California, Silicon Valley), we've had three physical meetings so far.
John Gilmore, a founder of Cygnus Support, has graciously offered his
facilities for our meetings, which typically happen on Saturday
afternoons. The schedule gets posted on the list, of course.

* Some exciting progress has already been made. Eric Hughes and Hal
Finney have implemented a PERL-scripted remailer which provides
anonymous forwarding (though the security is only "manual"), and 2-way
remailers with digital pseudonyms seem imminent. Integrating PGP into
mailers remains a problem, as those of you who use PGP already know,
and several of our members are working with the PGP and MacPGP teams.

* "Crypto dongles" to attach to RS-232 ports are being pursued by
Yanek Martinson (an Extropian as well), George Gleason, John Draper
("Cap'n Crunch"), and others. Lots of enthusiastic debate.

* FIDONet users are also involved, including Tom Jennings, the founder
of FIDONet, in 1984. This brings an exciting new flavor for most

* Like the Extropians list, the Cypherpunks list is relatively free
from flames and personal attacks. We all realize we're interested in
roughly the same goal, even though some are Libertarians (naturally)
while others are Socialist, Marxists, and Act Up! activists.
(Interestingly, we've never had any real flames on politics. We almost
never argue political views. This may of course be alien to readers of
the Extropians list! :-} )

* So why isn't the list sent out in encrypted form? A little thought
will reveal the uselessness of encrypting a widely distributed list
that's essentially open to anyone who sends in a request! Still, there
is some talk of encrypting in the future, partly to weed out the
casual readers (for whatever reason) and partly to just get the volume
of encrypted messages up.

If you've read this far, and are really interested in joining the
list, send a request to "[email protected]". This is
standard list procedure, of course. But please don't then complain
about the list volume!

--Tim May

Timothy C. May         | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,  
[email protected]       | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
408-688-5409           | knowledge, reputations, information markets, 
W.A.S.T.E.: Aptos, CA  | black markets, collapse of governments.
Higher Power: 2^756839 | PGP Public Key: by arrangement.