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2. MFAQ--Most Frequently Asked Questions

THE CYPHERNOMICON: Cypherpunks FAQ and More, Version 0.666, 1994-09-10, Copyright Timothy C. May. All rights reserved. See the detailed disclaimer. Use short sections under "fair use" provisions, with appropriate credit, but don't put your name on my words.

2.2. SUMMARY: MFAQ--Most Frequently Asked Questions

2.2.1. Main Points

  • These are the main questions that keep coming up. Not necessarily the most basic question, just the ones that get asked a lot. What most FAQs are.

2.2.2. Connections to Other Sections

2.2.3. Where to Find Additional Information

  • newcomers to crypto should buy Bruce Schneier's "Applied Cryptography" will save many hours worth of unnecessary questions and clueless remarks about cryptography.
  • the various FAQs publishe in the newsroups (like sci.crypt, are very helpful. (also at

2.2.4. Miscellaneous Comments

  • I wasn't sure what to include here in the MFAQ--perhaps people can make suggestions of other things to include.
  • My advice is that if something interests you, use your editing/searching tools to find the same topic in the main section. Usually (but not always) there's more material in the main chapters than here in the MFAQ.

2.3. "What's the 'Big Picture'?"

2.3.1. Strong crypto is here.

It is widely available.

2.3.2. It implies many changes in the way the world works.

Private channels between parties who have never met and who never will meet are possible. Totally anonymous, unlinkable, untraceable communications and exchanges are possible.

2.3.3. Transactions can only be voluntary,

since the parties are untraceable and unknown and can withdraw at any time. This has profound implications for the conventional approach of using the threat of force, directed against parties by governments or by others. In particular, threats of force will fail.

2.3.4. What emerges from this is unclear,

but I think it will be a form of anarcho-capitalist market system I call "crypto anarchy." (Voluntary communications only, with no third parties butting in.)

2.4. Organizational

2.4.1. "How do I get on--and off--the Cypherpunks list?"

  • Send a message to ""
  • Any auto-processed commands?
  • don't send requests to the list as a whole…this will mark you as "clueless"

2.4.2. "Why does the Cypherpunks list sometimes go down, or lose the subscription list?"

  • The host machine,, owned by John Gilmore, has had the usual problems such machines have: overloading, shortages of disk space, software upgrades, etc. Hugh Daniel has done an admirable job of keeping it in good shape, but problems do occur.
  • Think of it as warning that lists and communication systems remain somewhat fragile...a lesson for what is needed to make digital money more robust and trustable.
  • There is no paid staff, no hardware budget for improvements. The work done is strictly voluntarily.

2.4.3. "If I've just joined the Cypherpunks list, what should I do?"

  • Read for a while. Things will become clearer, themes will emerge, and certain questions will be answered. This is good advice for any group or list, and is especially so for a list with 500 or more people on it. (We hit 700+ at one point, then a couple of list outages knocked the number down a bit.)
  • Read the references mentioned here, if you can. The sci.crypt FAQ should be read. And purchase Bruce Schneier's "Applied Cryptography" the first chance you get.
  • Join in on things that interest you, but don't make a fool of yourself. Reputations matter, and you may come to regret having come across as a tedious fool in your first weeks on the list. (If you're a tedious fool after the first few weeks, that may just be your nature, of course.)
    • Avoid ranting and raving on unrelated topics, such as abortion (pro or con), guns (pro or con), etc. The usual topics that usually generate a lot of heat and not much light. (Yes, most of us have strong views on these and other topics, and, yes, we sometimes let our views creep into discussions. There's no denying that certain resonances exist. I'm just urging caution.)

2.4.4. "I'm swamped by the list volume; what can I do?"

  • This is a natural reaction. Nobody can follow it all; I spend entirely too many hours a day reading the list, and I certainly can't follow it all. Pick areas of expertise and then follow them and ignore the rest. After all, not seeing things on the list can be no worse than not even being subscribed to the list!
  • Hit the "delete" key quickly
  • find someone who will digest it for you (Eric Hughes has repeatedly said anyone can retransmit the list this way; Hal Finney has offered an encrypted list)
  • Better mailers may help. Some people have used mail-to-news systems and then read the list as a local newsgroup, with threads.
  • I have Eudora, which supports off-line reading and sorting features, but I generally end up reading with an online mail program (elm).
  • The mailing list may someday be switched over to a newsgroup, a la "alt.cypherpunks." (This may affect some people whose sites do not carry alt groups.)

2.4.5. "It's very easy to get lost in the morass of detail here. Are there any ways to track what's really important?"

  • First, a lot of the stuff posted in the Usenet newsgroups, and on the Cypherpunks list, is peripheral stuff, epiphenomenal cruft that will blow away in the first strong breeze. Grungy details about PGP shells, about RSA encryption speeds, about NSA supercomputers. There's just no reason for people to worry about "weak IDEA keys" when so many more pressing matters exist. (Let the experts worry.) Little of this makes any real difference, just as little of the stuff in daily newspapers is memorable or deserves to be memorable.
  • Second, "read the sources." Read "1984," "The Shockwave Rider," "Atlas Shrugged," "True Names." Read the Chaum article on making Big Brother obsolete (October 1985, "Communications of the ACM").
  • Third, don't lose sight of the core values: privacy, technological solutions over legal solutions, avoiding taxation, bypassing laws, etc. (Not everyone will agree with all of these points.)
  • Fourth, don't drown in the detail. Pick some areas of interest and follow them. You may not need to know the inner workings of DES or all the switches on PGP to make contributions in other areas. (In fact, you surely don't.)

2.4.6. "Who are the Cypherpunks?"

  • A mix of about 500-700
  • Can find out who by sending message to with the message body text "who cypherpunks" (no quotes, of course).
    • Is this a privacy flaw? Maybe.
  • Lots of students (they have the time, the Internet accounts). Lots of computer science/programming folks. Lots of libertarians.
    • quote from Wired article, and from "Whole Earth Review"

2.4.7. "Who runs the Cypherpunks?"

  • Nobody. There's no formal "leadership." No ruler = no head = an arch = anarchy. (Look up the etymology of anarchy.)
  • However, the mailing list currently resides on a physical machine, and this machine creates some nexus of control, much like having a party at someon'e house. The list administrator is currently Eric Hughes (and has been since the beginning). He is helped by Hugh Daniel, who often does maintenance of the, and by John Gilmore, who owns the machine and account.
  • In an extreme situation of abuse or neverending ranting, these folks could kick someone off the list and block them from resubscribing via majordomo. (I presume they could-- it's never happened.)
  • To emphasize: nobody's ever been kicked off the list, so far as I know. Not even Detweiler...he asked to be removed (when the list subscribes were done manually).
  • As to who sets policy, there is no policy! No charter, no agenda, no action items. Just what people want to work on themselves. Which is all that can be expected. (Some people get frustrated at this lack of consensus, and they sometimes start flaming and ranting about "Cypherpunks never do anything," but this lack of consensus is to be expected. Nobody's being paid, nobody's got hiring and firing authority, so any work that gets done has to be voluntary. Some volunteer groups are more organized than we are, but there are other factors that make this more possible for them than it is for us. C'est la vie.)
  • Those who get heard on the mailing list, or in the physical meetings, are those who write articles that people find interesting or who say things of note. Sounds fair to me.

2.4.8. "Why don't the issues that interest me get discussed?"

  • Maybe they already have been--several times. Many newcomers are often chagrined to find arcane topics being discussed, with little discussion of "the basics."
    • This is hardly surprising...people get over the "basics" after a few months and want to move on to more exciting (to them) topics. All lists are like this.
  • In any case, after you've read the list for a while--maybe several weeks--go ahead and ask away. Making your topic fresher may generate more responses than, say, asking what's wrong with Clipper. (A truly overworked topic, naturally.)

2.4.9. "How did the Cypherpunks group get started?"

2.4.10. "Where did the name 'Cypherpunks' come from?"

  • Jude Milhon, aka St. Jude, then an editor at "Mondo 2000," was at the earliest meetings...she quipped "You guys are just a bunch of cypherpunks." The name was adopted immediately.
  • The 'cyberpunk' genre of science fiction often deals with issues of cyberspace and computer security ("ice"), so the link is natural. A point of confusion is that cyberpunks are popularly thought of as, well, as "punks," while many Cyberpunks are frequently libertarians and anarchists of various stripes. In my view, the two are not in conflict.
  • Some, however, would prefer a more staid name. The U.K. branch calls itself the "U.K. Crypto Privacy Association." However, the advantages of the name are clear. For one thing, many people are bored by staid names. For another, it gets us noticed by journalists and others.
  • We are actually not very "punkish" at all. About as punkish as most of our cyberpunk cousins are, which is to say, not very.
    • the name
  • Crypto Cabal (this before the sci.crypt FAQ folks appeared, I think), Crypto Liberation Front, other names
    • not everybody likes the name...such is life

2.4.11. "Why doesn't the Cypherpunks group have announced goals, ideologies, and plans?"

  • The short answer: we're just a mailing list, a loose association of folks interested in similar things
  • no budget, no voting, no leadership (except the "leadership of the soapbox")
  • How could such a consensus emerge? The usual approach is for an elected group (or a group that seized power) to write the charter and goals, to push their agenda. Such is not the case here.
  • Is this FAQ a de facto statement of goals? Not if I can help it, to be honest. Several people before me planned some sort of FAQ, and had they completed them, I certainly would not have felt they were speaking for me or for the group. To be consistent, then, I cannot have others think this way about this FAQ!

2.4.12. "What have the Cypherpunks actually done?"

  • spread of crypto: Cypherpunks have helped (PGP)...publicity, an alternative forum to sci.crypt (in many ways, better...better S/N ratio, more polite)
  • Wired, Whole Earth Review, NY Times, articles
  • remailers, encrypted remailers
  • The Cypherpunk- and Julf/Kleinpaste-style remailers were both written very quickly, in just days
  • Eric Hughes wrote the first Cypherpunks remailer in a weekend, and he spent the first day of that weekend learning enough Perl to do the job.
  • Karl Kleinpaste wrote the code that eventually turned into Julf's remailer (added to since, of course) in a similarly short time:
  • "My original anon server, for 2 years ago, was written in a few hours one bored afternoon. It wasn't as featureful as it ended up being, but it was "complete" for its initial goals, and bug-free." [, alt.privacy.anon-server, 1994-09-01]
  • That other interesting ideas, such as digital cash, have not yet really emerged and gained use even after years of active discussion, is an interesting contrast to this rapid deployment of remailers. (The text-based nature of both straight encryption/signing and of remailing is semantically simpler to understand and then use than are things like digital cash, DC-nets, and other crypto protocols.)
    • ideas for Perl scripts, mail handlers
  • general discussion, with folks of several political persuasions
    • concepts: pools, Information Liberation Front, BlackNet

2.4.13. "How Can I Learn About Crypto and Cypherpunks Info?"

2.4.14. "Why is there sometimes disdain for the enthusiasm and proposals of newcomers?"

  • None of us is perfect, so we sometimes are impatient with newcomers. Also, the comments seen tend to be issues of disagreement--as in all lists and newsgroups (agreement is so boring).
  • But many newcomers also have failed to do the basic reading that many of us did literally years before joining this list. Cryptology is a fairly technical subject, and one can no more jump in and expect to be taken seriously without any preparation than in any other technical field.
  • Finally, many of us have answered the questions of newcomers too many times to be enthusiastic about it anymore. Familiarity breeds contempt.
  • Newcomers should try to be patient about our impatience. Sometimes recasting the question generates interest. Freshness matters. Often, making an incisive comment, instead of just asking a basic question, can generate responses. (Just like in real life.)
    • "Clipper sux!" won't generate much response.

2.4.15. "Should I join the Cypherpunks mailing list?"

  • If you are reading this, of course, you are most likely on the Cypherpunks list already and this point is moot--you may instead be asking if you should_leave_ the List!
  • Only if you are prepared to handle 30-60 messages a day, with volumes fluctuating wildly

2.4.16. "Why isn't the Cypherpunks list encrypted? Don't you believe in encryption?"

  • what's the point, for a publically-subscribable list?
  • except to make people jump through hoops, to put a large burden on toad (unless everybody was given the same key, so that just one encryption could be done...which underscores the foolishness)
    • there have been proposals, mainly as a stick to force people to start using encryption...and to get the encrypted traffic boosted
  • involving delays for those who choose not or can't use crypto (students on terminals, foreigners in countries which have banned crypto, corporate subscribers...)

2.4.17. "What does "Cypherpunks write code' mean?"

  • a clarifying statement, not an imperative
  • technology and concrete solutions over bickering and chatter
  • if you don't write code, fine. Not everyone does (in fact, probably less than 10% of the list writes serious code, and less than 5% writes crypto or security software

2.4.18. "What does 'Big Brother Inside' Mean?"

  • devised by yours truly (tcmay) at Clipper meeting
  • Matt Thomlinson, Postscript
  • printed by ...

2.4.19. "I Have a New Idea for a Cipher---Should I Discuss it Here?"

  • Please don't. Ciphers require careful analysis, and should be in paper form (that is, presented in a detailed paper, with the necessary references to show that due diligence was done, the equations, tables, etc. The Net is a poor substitute.
  • Also, breaking a randomly presented cipher is by no means trivial, even if the cipher is eventually shown to be weak. Most people don't have the inclination to try to break a cipher unless there's some incentive, such as fame or money involved.
  • And new ciphers are notoriously hard to design. Experts are the best folks to do this. With all the stuff waiting to be done (described here), working on a new cipher is probably the least effective thing an amateur can do. (If you are not an amateur, and have broken other people's ciphers before, then you know who you are, and these comments don't apply. But I'll guess that fewer than a handful of folks on this list have the necessary background to do cipher design.)
  • There are a vast number of ciphers and systems, nearly all of no lasting significance. Untested, undocumented, unused- -and probably unworthy of any real attention. Don't add to the noise.

2.4.20. Are all the Cypherpunks libertarians?

2.4.21. "What can we do?"

  • Deploy strong crypto, to ensure the genie cannot be put in the bottle
    • Educate, lobby, discuss
  • Spread doubt, make government programs look foolish
    • Sabotage, undermine, monkeywrench
    • Pursue other activities

2.4.22. "Why is the list unmoderated? Why is there no filtering of disrupters like Detweiler?"

  • technology over law
  • each person makes their own choice
  • also, no time for moderation, and moderation is usually stultifying
  • anyone who wishes to have some views silenced, or some posters blocked, is advised to:
  • contract with someone to be their Personal Censor, passing on to them only approved material
  • subscribe to a filtering service, such as Ray and Harry are providing

2.4.23. "What Can I Do?"

  • politics, spreading the word
  • writing code ("Cypherpunks write code")

2.4.24. "Should I publicize my new crypto program?"

  • "I have designed a crypting program, that I think is unbreakable. I challenge anyone who is interested to get in touch with me, and decrypt an encrypted massage." "With highest regards, Babak Sehari." [Babak Sehari, sci.crypt, 6-19-94]

2.4.25. "Ask Emily Post Crypt"

  • my variation on "Ask Emily Postnews"
  • for those that don't know, a scathing critique of clueless postings
  • "I just invented a new cipher. Here's a sample. Bet you can't break it!"
  • By all means post your encrypted junk. We who have nothing better to do with our time than respond will be more than happy to spend hours running your stuff through our codebreaking Crays!
  • Be sure to include a sample of encrypted text, to make yourself appear even more clueless.
    • "I have a cypher I just invented...where should I post it?"
  • "One of the very most basic errors of making ciphers is simply to add
  • layer upon layer of obfuscation and make a cipher which is nice and
  • "complex". Read Knuth on making random number generators for the
  • folly in this kind of approach. " <Eric Hughes, 4-1794, Cypherpunks>
  • "Ciphers carry the presumption of guilt, not innocence. Ciphers
  • designed by amateurs invariably fail under scrutiny by experts. This
  • sociological fact (well borne out) is where the presumption of
  • insecurity arises. This is not ignorance, to assume that this will
  • change. The burden of proof is on the claimer of security, not upon - the codebreaker. <Eric Hughes, 4-17-94, Cypherpunks>
  • "I've just gotten very upset at something--should I vent my anger on the mailing list?"
  • By all means! If you're fed up doing your taxes, or just read something in the newspaper that really angered you, definitely send an angry message out to the 700 or so readers and help make them angry!
  • Find a bogus link to crypto or privacy issues to make it seem more relevant.

2.4.26. "What are some main Cypherpunks projects?"

  • remailers
    • better remailers, more advanced features
      • digital postage
      • padding, batching/latency
      • agent features
    • more of them
    • offshore (10 sites in 5 countries, as a minimum)
  • tools, services
  • digital cash in better forms

2.4.27. "What about sublists, to reduce the volume on the main list."

  • There are already half a dozen sub-lists, devoted to planning meetings, to building hardware, and to exploring DC-Nets. There's one for remailer operators, or there used to be. There are also lists devoted to similar topics as Cypherpunks, including Robin Hanson's "AltInst" list (Alternative Institutions), Nick Szabo's "libtech-l" list, the "IMP-Interest" (Internet Mercantile Protocols) list, and so on. Most are very low volume.
  • That few folks have heard of any of them, and that traffic volumes are extremely low, or zero, is not all that surprising, and matches experiences elsewhere. Several reasons:
  • Sublists are a bother to remember; most people forget they exist, and don't think to post to them. (This "forgetting" is one of the most interesting aspects of cyberspace; successful lists seem to be Schelling points that accrete even more members, while unsuccessful lists fade away into nothingness.)
  • There's a natural desire to see one's words in the larger of two forums, so people tend to post to the main list.
  • The sublists were sometimes formed in a burst of exuberance over some topic, which then faded.
  • Topics often span several subinterest areas, so posting to the main list is better than copying all the relevant sublists.
  • In any case, the Cypherpunks main list is "it," for now, and has driven other lists effectively out of business. A kind of Gresham's Law.

2.5. Crypto

2.5.1. "Why is crypto so important?"

  • The three elements that are central to our modern view of liberty and privacy (a la Diffie)
    • protecting things against theft
    • proving who we say we are
    • expecting privacy in our conversations and writings
  • Although there is no explicit "right of privacy" enumerated in the U.S. Constitution, the assumption that an individual is to be secure in his papers, home, etc., absent a valid warrant, is central. (There has never been a ruling or law that persons have to speak in a language that is understandable by eavesdroppers, wiretappers, etc., nor has there ever been a rule banning private use of encrption. I mention this to remind readers of the long history of crypto freedom.)
  • "Information, technology and control of both is power. Anonymous telecommunications has the potential to be the greatest equalizer in history. Bringing this power to as many as possible will forever change the discourse of power in this country (and the world)." [Matthew J Miszewski, ACT NOW!, 1993-03-06]

2.5.2. "Who uses cryptography?"

  • Everybody, in one form or another. We see crypto all around us...the keys in our pockets, the signatures on our driver's licenses and other cards, the photo IDs, the credit cards. Lock combinations, door keys, PIN numbers, etc. All are part of crypto (although most might call this "security" and not a very mathematical thing, as cryptography is usually thought to be).
  • Whitticism: "those who regularly conspire to participate in the political process are already encrypting." [Whit Diffie]

2.5.3. "Who needs crypto? What have they got to hide?"

  • honest people need crypto because there are dishonest people
    • and there may be other needs for privacy
  • There are many reasons why people need privacy, the ability to keep some things secret. Financial, personal, psychological, social, and many other reasons.
  • Privacy in their papers, in their diaries, in their pesonal lives. In their financial choices, their investments, etc. (The IRS and tax authorities in other countries claim to have a right to see private records, and so far the courts have backed them up. I disagree.)
  • people encrypt for the same reason they close and lock their doors
  • Privacy in its most basic forms

2.5.4. "I'm new to crypto--where should I start?"

  • books...Schneier
  • soda
  • sci.crypt
  • talk.politics.crypto
  • FAQs other than this one

2.5.5. "Do I need to study cryptography and number theory to make a contribution?"

  • Absolutely not! Most cryptographers and mathematicians are so busy doing their thing that they little time or interest for political and entrepreneurial activities. Specialization is for insects and researchers, as someone's .sig says.
  • Many areas are ripe for contribution. Modularization of functions means people can concentrate in other areas, just as writers don't have to learn how to set type, or cut quill pens, or mix inks.
  • Nonspecialists should treat most established ciphers as "black boxes" that work as advertised. (I'm not saying they do, just that analysis of them is best left to experts...a little skepticism may not hurt, though).

2.5.6. "How does public key cryptography work, simply put?"

  • Plenty of articles and textbooks describe this, in everincreasing detail (they start out with the basics, then get to the juicy stuff).
  • I did find a simple explanation, with "toy numbers," from Matthew Ghio:
    • "You pick two prime numbers; for example 5 and 7. Multiply them together, equals 35. Now you calculate the product of one less than each number, plus one. (5-1)(7- 1)+1=21. There is a mathematical relationship that says that x = хл21 mod 35 for any x from 0 to 34. Now you factor 21, yeilds 3 and 7. "You pick one of those numbers to be your private key and the other one is your public key. So you have: Public key: 3 Private key: 7 "Someone encrypts a message for you by taking plaintext message m to make ciphertext message c: c=mA3 mod 35 "You decrypt c and find m using your private key: m=cA7 mod 35 "If the numbers are several hundred digits long (as in PGP), it is nearly impossible to guess the secret key." [Matthew Ghio, alt.anonymous, 1994-09-03]
    • (There's a math error here...exercise left for the student.)

2.5.7. "I'm a newcomer to this should I get started?"

  • Start by reading some of the material cited. Don't worry too much about understanding it all.
  • Follow the list.
  • Find an area that interests you and concentrate on that. There is no reason why privacy advocates need to understand Diffie-Hellman key exchange in detail!
  • More Information
    • Books
      • Schneier
      • Brassard
    • Journals, etc
      • Proceedings
      • Journal of Cryptology
      • Cryptologia
    • Newsgroups
    • ftp sites

2.5.8. "Who are Alice and Bob?"

2.5.9. "What is security through obscurity"?

  • adding layers of confusion, indirection
  • rarely is strong in a an infromation-theoretic or cryptographic sense
  • and may have "shortcuts" (like a knot that looks complex but which falls open if approached the right way)
    • encryption algorithms often hidden, sites hidden
  • Make no mistake about it, these approaches are often used. And they can add a little to the overall security (using file encyption programs like FolderBolt on top of PGP is an example)...

2.5.10. "Has DES been broken? And what about RSA?"

  • DES: Brute-force search of the keyspace in chosen-plaintext attacks is feeasible in around 2Л47 keys, according to Biham and Shamir. This is about 2Л9 times easier than the "raw" keyspace. Michael Wiener has estimated that a macine of special chips could crack DES this way for a few thousand dollars per key. The NSA may have such machines.
    • In any case, DES was not expected to last this long by many (and, in fact, the NSA and NIST proposed a phaseout some years back, the "CCEP" (Commercial COMSEC Endorsement Program), but it never caught on and seems forgotten today. Clipper and EES seem to have grabbed the spotlight.
    • IDEA, from Europe, is supposed to be much better.
    • As for RSA, this is unlikely. Factoring is not yet proven to be NP-co

2.5.11. "Can the NSA Break Foo?"

  • DES, RSA, IDEA, etc.
  • Can the government break our ciphers?

2.5.12. "Can brute-force methods break crypto systems?"

  • depends on the system, the keyspace, the ancillary information avialable, etc.
  • processing power generally has been doubling every 12-18 months (Moore's Law), so...
  • Skipjack is 80 bits, which is probably safe from brute force attack for 2Л24 = 1.68e7 times as long as DES is. With Wiener's estimate of 3.5 hours to break DES, this implies 6700 years using today's hardware. Assuming an optimistic doubling of hardware power per year (for the same cost), it will take 24 years before the hardware costs of a brute force attack on Skipjack come down to what it now costs to attack DES. Assuming no other weaknesses in Skipjack.
  • And note that intelligence agencies are able to spend much more than what Wiener calculated (recall Norm Hardy's description of Harvest)

2.5.13. "Did the NSA know about public key ideas before Diffie and Hellman?"

  • much debate, and some sly and possibly misleading innuendo
    • Simmons claimed he learned of PK in Gardner's column, and he certainly should've been in a position to know (weapons, Sandia)
  • Inman has claimed that NSA had a P-K concept in 1966
    • fits with Dominik's point about sealed cryptosystem boxes with no way to load new keys
  • and consistent with NSA having essentially sole access to nation's top mathematicians (until Diffies and Hellmans foreswore government funding, as a result of the antiPentagon feelings of the 70s)

2.5.14. "Did the NSA know about public-key approaches before Diffie and Hellman?"

  • comes up a lot, with some in the NSA trying to slyly suggest that of course they knew about it...
    • Simmons, etc.
    • Bellovin comments (are good)

2.5.15. "Can NSA crack RSA?"

  • Probably not.
  • Certainly not by "searching the keyspace," an idea that pops up every few months . It can't be done. 1024-bit keys implies roughly 512-bit primes, or 153-decimal digit primes. There are more than 10л150 of them! And only about 10л73 particles in the entire universe.
    • Has the factoring problem been solved? Probably not. And it probably won't be, in the sense that factoring is probably in NP (though this has not been proved) and P is probably not NP (also unproved, but very strongly suspected). While there will be advances in factoring, it is extremely unlikely (in the religious sense) that factoring a 300digit number will suddenly become "easy."
    • Does the RSA leak information so as to make it easier to crack than it is to factor the modulus? Suspected by some, but basically unknown. I would bet against it. But more iffy than the point above.
    • "How strong is strong crypto?"
      • Basically, stronger than any of the hokey "codes" so beloved of thriller writers and movie producers. Modern ciphers are not crackable by "telling the computer to run through all the combinations" (more precisely, the number of combinations greatly exceeds the number of atoms in the universe).

2.5.16. "Won't more powerful computers make ciphers breakable?"

  • The effects of increasing computer power confer even greater advantage to the cipher user than to the cipher breaker. (Longer key lengths in RSA, for example, require polynomially more time to use, but exponentially more time to break, roughly speaking.) Stunningly, it is likely that we are close to being able to use key lengths which cannot be broken with all the computer power that will ever exist in the universe.
  • Analogous to impenetrable force fields protecting the data, with more energy required to "punch through" than exists in the universe - Vernor Vinge's "bobbles," in "The Peace War."
    • Here I am assuming that no short cuts to factoring exist...this is unproven, but suspected. (No major shortcuts, i.e., factoring is not "easy.")
  • A modulus of thousands of decimal digits may require more total "energy" to factor, using foreseeable approaches, than is available
  • reversible computation may help, but I suspect not much
  • Shor's quantum-mechanical approach is completely untested...and may not scale well (e.g., it may be marginally possible to get the measurement precision to use this method for, say, 100-digit numbers, but utterly impossible to get it for 120-digit numbers, let alone 1000-digit numbers)

2.5.17. "Will strong crypto help racists?"

  • Yes, this is a consequence of having secure virtual communities. Free speech tends to work that way!
  • The Aryan Nation can use crypto to collect and disseminate information, even into "controlled" nations like Germany that ban groups like Aryan Nation.
  • Of course, "on the Internet no one knows you're a dog," so overt racism based on superficial external characteristics is correspondingly harder to pull off.
  • But strong crypto will enable and empower groups who have different beliefs than the local majority, and will allow them to bypass regional laws.

2.5.18. Working on new ciphers--why it's not a Cypherpunks priority (as I see it)

  • It's an issue of allocation of resources. ("All crypto is economics." E. Hughes) Much work has gone into cipher design, and the world seems to have several stable, robust ciphers to choose from. Any additional work by crypto amateurs--which most of us are, relative to professional mathematicians and cipher designers--is unlikely to move things forward significantly. Yes, it could happen...but it's not likely.
  • Whereas there are areas where professional cryptologists have done very little:
  • PGP (note that PRZ did not take time out to try to invent his own ciphers, at least not for Version 2.0)...he concentrated on where his efforts would have the best payoff
    • implementation of remailers
    • issues involving shells and other tools for crypto use
    • digital cash
  • related issues, such as reputations, language design, game theory, etc.
  • These are the areas of "low-hanging fruit," the areas where the greatest bang for the buck lies, to mix some metaphors (grapeshot?).

2.5.19. "Are there any unbreakable ciphers?"

  • One time pads are of course information-theoretically secure, i.e., unbreakable by computer power.
  • For conventional ciphers, including public key ciphers, some ciphers may not be breakable in our universe, in any amount of time. The logic goes as follows:
  • Our universe presumably has some finite number of particles (currently estimated to be 10л73 particles). This leads to the "even if every particle were a Cray Y- MP it would take..." sorts of thought experiments. But I am considering energy here. Ignoring reversible computation for the moment, computations dissipate energy (some disagree with this point). There is some uppper limit on how many basic computations could ever be done with the amount of free energy in the universe. (A rough calculation could be done by calculating the energy output of stars, stuff falling into black holes, etc., and then assuming about kT per logical operation. This should be accurate to within a few orders of magnitude.) I haven't done this calculation, and won't here, but the result would likely be something along the lines of X joules of energy that could be harnessed for computation, resulting in Y basic primitive computational steps. I can then find a modulus of 3000 digits or 5000 digits, or whatever, that takes more than this number of steps to factor. Therefore, unbreakable in our universe.
    • Caveats:
  1. Maybe there are really shortcuts to factoring. Certainly improvements in factoring methods will continue. (But of course these improvements are not things that convert factoring into a less than exponential-in-length problem...that is, factoring appears to remain "hard.")
  2. Maybe reversible computations (a la Landauer, Bennett, et. al.) actually work. Maybe this means a "factoring machine" can be built which takes a fixed, or very slowly growing, amount of energy. In this case, "forever" means Lefty is probably right.
  3. Maybe the quantum-mechanical idea of Peter Shor is possible. (I doubt it, for various reasons.)

2.5.20. "How safe is RSA?" "How safe is PGP?" "I heard that PGP has bugs?"

  • This cloud of questions is surely the most common sort that appears in sci.crypt. It sometimes gets no answers, sometimes gets a rude answer, and only occasionally does it lead to a fruiful discussion.
  • The simple anwer: These ciphers appear to be safe, to have no obvious flaws.
  • More details can be found in various question elsewhere in this FAQ and in the various FAQs and references others have published.

2.5.21. "How long does encryption have to be good for?"

  • This obviously depends on what you're encrypting. Some things need only be safe for short periods of time, e.g., a few years or even less. Other things may come back to haunt you--or get you thrown in prison--many years later. I can imagine secrets that have to be kept for many decades, even centuries (for example, one may fear one's descendents will pay the price for a secret revealed).
  • It is useful to think now about the computer power likely to be available in the year 2050, when many of you reading this will still be around. (I'm not arguing that parallelism, etc., will cause RSA to fall, only that some key lengths (e.g., 512-bit) may fall by then. Better be safe and use 1024 bits or even more. Increased computer power makes longer keys feasible, too.).

2.6. PGP

2.6.1. There's a truly vast amount of information out there on PGP,

from current versions, to sites, to keyserver issues, and so on. There are also several good FAQs on PGP, on MacPGP, and probably on nearly every major version of PGP. I don't expect to compete here with these more specialized FAQs.

  • I'm also not a PGP expert, using it only for sending and receiving mail, and rarely doing much more with it.
  • The various tools, for all major platforms, are a specialty unto themselves.

2.6.2. "Where do I get PGP?"

2.6.3. "Where can I find PGP?"

  • Wait around for several days and a post will come by which gives some pointers.
  • Here are some sites current at this writing: (watch out for changes)

2.6.4. "Is PGP secure? I heard someone had..."

  • periodic reports, urban legend, that PGP has been compromised, that Phil Z. has been "persuaded" to...
    • implausible for several reasons
      • Phil Z no longer controls the source code by himself
  • the source code is available and can be inspected...would be very difficult to slip in major back doors that would not be apparent in the source code
  • Phil has denied this, and the rumors appear to come from idle speculation
    • But can PGP be broken?
  • has not been tested independently in a thorough, cryptanalytic way, yet (opinion of tcmay)
    • NSA isn't saying
    • Areas for attack
      • IDEA
  • some are saying doubling of the number of rounds should be donee
  • the random number generators...Colin Plumb's admission

2.6.5. "Should I use PGP and other crypto on my company's workstations?"

  • machines owned by corporations and universities, usually on networks, are generally not secure (that is, they may be compromised in various ways)
  • ironically, most of the folks who sign all their messages, who use a lot of encryption, are on just such machines
  • PCs and Macs and other nonnetworked machines are more secure, but are harder to use PGP on (as of 1994)
  • these are generalizations--there are insecure PCs and secure workstations

2.6.6. "I just got PGP--should I use it for all my mail?"

  • No! Many people cannot easily use PGP, so if you wish to communicate with them, don't encrypt everything. Use encryption where it matters.
  • If you just want more people to use encryption, help with the projects to better integrate crypto into existing mailers.

2.6.7. NSA is apparently worried about PGP,

worried about the spread of PGP to other countries, and worried about the growth of "internal communities" that communicate via "black pipes" or "encrypted tunnels" that are impenetrable to them.

2.7. Clipper

2.7.1. "How can the government do this?"

  • incredulity that bans, censorship, etc. are legal
  • several ways these things happen
    • not tested in the courts
    • wartime regulations
    • conflicting interpretations
  • e.g., "general welfare" clause used to justify restrictions on speech, freedom of association, etc.
  • whenever public money or facilities used (as with churches forced to hire Satanists)
  • and in this increasingly interconnnected world, it is sometimes very hard to avoid overlap with public funding, facilities, etc.

2.7.2. "Why don't Cypherpunks develop their won competing encryption chip?"

  • Many reasons not to:
    • cost
    • focus
    • expertise
    • hard to sell such a competing standard
  • better to let market as a whole make these choices

2.7.3. "Why is crypto so frightening to governments?"

  • It takes away the state's power to snoop, to wiretap, to eavesdrop, to control
  • Priestly confessionals were a major way the Church kept tabs on the locals...a worldwide, grassroots system of ecclesiastical narcs
    • Crypto has high leverage
  • Unlike direct assaults with bombs, HERF and EMP attacks, sabotage, etc, crypto is self-spreading...a bootstrap technology
  • people use it, give it to others, put it on networks
  • others use it for their own purposes
  • a cascade effect, growing geometrically
  • and undermining confidence in governments, allowing the spread of multiple points of view (especially unapproved views)

2.7.4. "I've just joined the list and am wondering why I don't see more debate about Clipper?"

  • Understand that people rarely write essays in response to questions like "Why is Clipper bad?" For most of us, mandatory key escrow is axiomatically bad; no debate is needed.
  • Clipper was thoroughly trashed by nearly everyone within hours and days of its announcement, April 16, 1993. Hundreds of articles and editorials have condemned it. Cyperpunks currently has no active supporters of mandatory key escrow, from all indications, so there is nothing to debate.

2.8. Other Ciphers and Crypto Products

2.9. Remailers and Anonymity

2.9.1. "What are remailers?"

2.9.2. "How do remailers work?" (a vast number of postings have dealt with this)

  • The best way to understand them is to "just do it," that is, send a few remailed message to yourself, to see how the syntax works. Instructions are widely available--some are cited here, and up to date instructions will appear in the usual Usenet groups.
  • The simple view: Text messages are placed in envelopes and sent to a site that has agreed to remail them based on the instructions it finds. Encryption is not necessary--though it is of course recommended. These "messages in bottles" are passed from site to site and ultimately to the intended final recipient.
  • The message is pure text, with instructions contained in the text itself (this was a fortuitous choice of standard by Eric Hughes, in 1992, as it allowed chaining, independence from particular mail systems, etc.).
    • A message will be something like this: Request-Remailing-To: remailer@bar.baz Body of text, etc., etc. (Which could be more remailing instructions, digital postage, etc.)
  • These nested messages make no assumptions about the type of mailer being used, so long as it can handle straight ASCII text, which all mailers can of course. Each mail message then acts as a kind of "agent," carrying instructions on where it should be mailed next, and perhaps other things (like delays, padding, postage, etc.)
  • It's very important to note that any given remailer cannot see the contents of the envelopes he is remailing, provided encryption is used. (The orginal sender picks a desired trajectory through the labyrinth of remailers, encrypts in the appropriate sequence (last is innermost, then next to last, etc.), and then the remailers sequentially decrypt the outer envelopes as they get them. Envelopes within envelopes.)

2.9.3. "Can't remailers be used to harass people?"

  • Sure, so can free speech, anonymous physical mail ("poison pen letters"), etc.
  • With e-mail, people can screen their mail, use filters, ignore words they don't like, etc. Lots of options. "Sticks and stones" and all that stuff we learned in Kindergarten (well, I'm never sure what the the Gen Xers learned...).
  • Extortion is made somewhat easier by anonymous mailers, but extortion threats can be made in other ways, such as via physical mail, or from payphones, etc.
  • Physical actions, threats, etc. are another matter. Not the domain of crypto, per se.

2.10. Surveillance and Privacy

2.10.1. "Does the NSA monitor this list?"

  • Probably. We've been visible enough, and there are many avenues for monitoring or even subscribing to the List. Many aliases, many points of presence.
  • some concerns that Cypherpunks list has been infiltrated and is a "round up list"
  • There have even been anonymous messages purporting to name likely CIA, DIA, and NSA spooks. ("Be aware.")
  • Remember, the list of subscribers is not a secret--it can be gotten by sending a "who cypherpunks" message to Anyone in the world can do this.

2.10.2. "Is this list illegal?"

  • Depends on the country. In the U.S., there are very strong protections against "prior restraint" for published material, so the list is fairly well -protected...shutting it down would create a First Amendment case of major importance. Which is unlikely. Conspiracy and sedition laws are more complex to analyze; there are no indications that material here or on the list is illegal.
  • Advocacy of illegal acts (subversion of export laws, espionage, etc.) is generally legal. Even advocating the overthrow of the government.
  • The situation in other countries is different. Some countries ban unapproved encryption, so this list is suspect.
  • Practically speaking, anyone reading this list is probably in a place which either makes no attempt to control encryption or is unable to monitor what crosses its borders.

2.10.3. "Can keystrokes really be monitored remotely? How likely is this?"

  • Yes. Van Eck, RF, monitors, easy (it is claimed) to build this
  • How likely? Depends on who you are. Ames, the KGB spy, was probably monitored near the end, but I doubt many of us are. The costs are simply too high...the vans outside, the personnel needed, etc.
  • the real hazards involve making it "easy" and "almost automatic" for such monitoring, such as with Clipper and EES. Then they essentially just flip a switch and the monitoring muss, no fuss.

2.10.4. "Wouldn't some crimes be stopped if the government could monitor what it wanted to?"

  • Sure. This is an old story. Some criminals would be caught if their diaries could be examined. Television cameras in all homes would reduce crimes of ... (Are you listening, Winston?).
  • Orwell, fascism, surveillance states, what have you got to hide, etc.

2.11.1. "Can encryption be banned?"

  • ham operators, shortwave
  • il gelepal, looi to waptime aolditolq
  • how is this any different from requiring speech in some language?
    • Navaho code talkers of WW2,,,,modern parallel

2.11.2. "Will the government try to ban encryption?"

  • This is of course the major concern most of us have about Clipper and the Escrowed Encryption Standard in general. Even if we think the banning of crypto will ultimately be a failure ("worse than Prohibition," someone has said), such a ban could make things very uncomfortable for many and would be a serious abridgement of basic liberties.
  • We don't know, but we fear something along these lines. It will be difficult to enforce such a ban, as so many avenues for communication exist, and encrypted messages may be hard to detect.
  • Their goal, however, may be control and the chilling effect that using "civil forfeiture" may have on potential crypto users. Like the drug laws. (Whit Diffie was the first to emphasize this motivation.)

2.11.3. "How could encryption be banned?"

  • most likely way: restrictions on networks, a la airwaves or postal service
  • could cite various needs, but absent a mechanism as above, hard to do
    • an outright ban, enforced with civil forfeiture penalties
  • wartime sorts of policies (crypto treated as sedition, treason...some high-profile prison sentences)
    • scenario posted by Sandfort?

2.11.4. "What's the situation about export of crypto?"

  • There's been much debate about this, with the case of Phil Zimmermann possibly being an important test case, should charges be filed.
  • as of 1994-09, the Grand Jury in San Jose has not said anything (it's been about 7-9 months since they started on this issue)
  • Dan Bernstein has argued that ITAR covers nearly all aspects of exporting crypto material, including codes, documentation, and even "knowledge." (Controversially, it may be in violation of ITAR for knowledgeable crypto people to even leave the country with the intention of developing crypto tools overseas.)
    • The various distributions of PGP that have occurred via anonymous ftp sources don't imply that ITAR is not being enforced, or won't be in the future.

2.11.5. "What's the legal status of digital signatures?"

  • Not yet tested in court. Ditto for most crypto protocols, including digital timestamping, electronic contracts, issues of lost keys, etc.

2.11.6. "Can't I just claim I forgot my password?"

2.11.7. "Is it dangerous to talk openly about these ideas?"

  • Depends on your country. In some countries, perhaps no. In the U.S., there's not much they can do (though folks should be aware that the Cypherpunks have received a lot of attention by the media and by policy makers, and so a vocal presence on this list very likely puts one on a list of crypto trouble makers).
  • Some companies may also feel views expressed here are not consistent with their corporate policies. Your mileage may vary.
    • Sedition and treason laws are not likely to be applicable.
    • some Cypherpunks think so
  • Others of us take the First Amendment pretty seriously: that all talk is permissable
    • NSA agents threatened to have Jim Bidzos killed

2.11.8. "Does possession of a key mean possession of identity?"

  • If I get your key, am I you?
  • Certainly not outside the context of the cryptographic transaction. But within the context of a transaction, yes. Additional safeguards/speedbumps can be inserted (such as biometric credentials, additional passphrases, etc.), but these are essentially part of the "key," so the basic answer remains "yes." (There are periodically concerns raised about this, citing the dangers of having all identity tied to a single credential, or number, or key. Well, there are ways to handle this, such as by adopting protocols that limit one's exposure, that limits the amount of money that can be withdrawn, etc. Or people can adopt protocols that require additional security, time delays, countersigning, etc.)
  • This may be tested in court soon enough, but the answer for many contracts and crypto transactions will be that possession of key = possession of identity. Even a court test may mean little, for the types of transactions I expect to see.
    • That is, in anonymous systems, "who ya gonna sue?"
    • So, guard your key.

2.12. Digital Cash

2.12.1. "What is digital money?"

2.12.2. "What are the main uses of strong crypto for business and economic transactions?"

  • Secure communications. Ensuring privacy of transaction records (avoiding eavesdroppes, competitors)
    • Digital signatures on contracts (will someday be standard)
    • Digital cash.
    • Reputations.
  • Data Havens. That bypass local laws about what can be stored and what can't (e.g., silly rules on how far back credit records can go).

2.12.3. "What are smart cards and how are they used?"

  • Most smart cards as they now exist are very far from being the anonymous digital cash of primary interest to us. In fact, most of them are just glorified credit cards.
  • with no gain to consumers, since consumes typically don't pay for losses by fraud
    • (so to entice consumes, will they offer inducements?)
  • Can be either small computers, typically credit-card-sized, or just cards that control access via local computers.
  • Tamper-resistant modules, e.g., if tampered with, they destroy the important data or at the least give evidence of having been tampered with.
    • Security of manufacturing
  • some variant of "cut-and-choose" inspection of premises
    • Uses of smart cards
      • conventional credit card uses
      • bill payment
      • postage
      • bridge and road tolls
  • payments for items received electronically (not necessarily anonymously)

2.13. Crypto Anarchy

2.13.1. "What is Crypto Anarchy?"

  • Some of us believe various forms of strong cryptography will cause the power of the state to decline, perhaps even collapse fairly abruptly. We believe the expansion into cyberspace, with secure communications, digital money, anonymity and pseudonymity, and other crypto-mediated interactions, will profoundly change the nature of economies and social interactions. Governments will have a hard time collecting taxes, regulating the behavior of individuals and corporations (small ones at least), and generally coercing folks when it can't even tell what continent folks are on! Read Vinge's "True Names" and Card's "Ender's Game" for some fictional inspirations. "Galt's Gulch" in cyberspace, what the Net is rapidly becoming already. I call this set of ideas "crypto anarchy" (or "cryptoanarchy," as you wish) and have written about this extensively. The magazines "Wired" (issue 1.2), "Whole Earth Review" (Summer, 1993), and "The Village Voice" (Aug. 6th, 1993) have all carried good articles on this.

2.13.2. The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto

  • a complete copy of my 1988 pastiche of the Communisto Manifesto is included in the chapter on Crypto Anarchy.
    • it needs rewriting, but for historical sake I've left it unchanged.
    • I'm proud that so much of it 2.13.3. "What is BlackNet?"
  • BlackNet -- an experiment in anonymous message pools for items. Tim May's experiment remains accurate. information markets, using exchange of instructions and in guerilla ontology.
  • BlackNet -- an experimental scheme devised by T. May to underscore the nature of anonymous information markets. "Any and all" secrets can be offered for sale mailers and message pools. The experiment was remailer to the Cypherpunks list (not by May) several dozen Usenet groups by Detweiler. The are said to be investigating it. via anonymous leaked via and thence to authorities

2.13.4. "What effect will crypto have on governments?"

  • A huge topic, one I've been thinking about since late 1987 when it dawned on me that public key crypto and anonymous digital cash systems, information markets, etc. meant the end of governments as we know them. development "crypto anarchy." Not But it's
    • "Putting the it
  • Espionage is drops." Any "crypto anarchy." coming, and fast.) NSA out of business," information markets, I called this everyone is a fan of it. as the NYT article put example, "digital dead changing. To pick one message can be sent through an untraceable path with remailers...and then posted in encrypted form in a newsgroup readable in most countries, including the Former Soviet Union. This means the old stand by of the microfilm in a Coke can left by a certain tree on a rural road--a method fraught with delays, dangers, and hassles--is now passe. The same message can be send from the comfort of one's home securely and untraceably. Even with a a digital signature to prevent spoofing and disinformation. This spy can be a Lockheed worker on the Aurora program, a SIGINT officer at Woomera, or a disgruntled chip designer at Motorola. (Yes, a countermeasure is to limit access to personal computers, to run only standard software that has no such crypto capability. Such embargoes may already apply to some in sensitive positions, and may someday be a condition of employment.)
    • Money-laundering
  • Tax collection. International consultants. Perpetual tourists. Virtual corporations.
  • Terrorism, Russian M digital

2.13.5. "How quickly could something like crypto anarchy come?"

  • Parts of it are happening already, though the changes in the world are not something I take any credit for. there are ongoing changes in the role of nations, and of the ability to coerce behaviors. When people can drop out of systems they don't like, can move to different legal or tax jurisdictions, then things change.
  • But a phase change could occur quickly, just as the Berlin Wall was impregnable one day, and down the next. , assassination, crime, Triads, Yakuza, Jamaicans, Mafia...virtual networks... Aryan Nation gone quickly could something like crypto anarchy come?" it are happening already, though the changes in Rather, of power,
  • "Public anger grows quietly and explodes suddenly. T.C. May's "phase change" may be closer than we think. Nobody in Russia in 1985 really thought the country would fall apart in 6 years." [Mike Ingle, 1994-01-01]

2.13.6. "Could strong crypto be used for sick and disgusting and dangerous purposes?"

  • Of course. So can locked doors, but we don't insist on an "open door policy" (outside of certain quaint sorority and rooming houses!) So do many forms of privacy allow plotters, molestors, racists, etc. to meet and plot.
  • Crypto is in use by the Aryan Nation, by both pro- and antiabortion groups, and probably by other kinds of terrorists. Expect more uses in the future, as things like PGP continue to spread.
  • Many of us are explicity anti-democratic, and hope to use encryption to undermine the so-called democratic governments of the world

2.13.7. "What is the Dining Cryptographers Problem, and why is it so important?"

  • This is dealt with in the main section, but here's David Chaum's Abstract, from his 1988 paper"
  • Abstract: "Keeping confidential who sends which messages, in a world where any physical transmission can be traced to its origin, seems impossible. The solution presented here is unconditionally or cryptographically secure, depending on whether it is based on one-time-use keys or on public keys. respectively. It can be adapted to address efficiently a wide variety of practical considerations." ["The Dining Cryptographers Problem: Unconditional Sender and Recipient Untraceability," David Chaum, Journal of Cryptology, I, 1, 1988.]
  • DC-nets have yet to be implemented, so far as I know, but they represent a "purer" version of the physical remailers we are all so familiar with now. Someday they'll have have a major impact. (I'm a bigger fan of this work than many seem to be, as there is little discussion in sci.crypt and the like.)

2.13.8. "Why won't government simply ban such encryption methods?" + This has always been the Number One Issue!

  • raised by Stiegler, Drexler, Salin, and several others (and in fact raised by some as an objection to my even discussing these issues, namely, that action may then be taken to head off the world I describe)
    • Types of Bans on Encryption and Secrecy
      • Ban on Private Use of Encryption
      • Ban on Store-and-Forward Nodes
      • Ban on Tokens and ZKIPS Authentication
      • Requirement for public disclosure of all transactions
  • Recent news (3-6-92, same day as Michaelangelo and Lawnmower Man) that government is proposing a surcharge on telcos and long distance services to pay for new equipment needed to tap phones! - S.266 and related bills
  • this was argued in terms of stopping drug dealers and other criminals
  • but how does the government intend to deal with the various forms fo end-user encryption or "confusion" (the confusion that will come from compression, packetizing, simple file encryption, etc.)
    • Types of Arguments Against Such Bans
      • The "Constitutional Rights" Arguments
      • The "It's Too Late" Arguments
  • PCs are already widely scattered, running dozens of compression and encryption is far too late to insist on "in the clear" broadcasts, whatever those may be (is program code distinguishable from encrypted messages? No.)
  • encrypted faxes, modem scramblers (albeit with some restrictions)
  • wireless LANs, packets, radio, IR, compressed text and images, etc...all will defeat any efforts short of police state intervention (which may still happen)
    • The "Feud Within the NSA" Arguments
      • COMSEC vs. PROD
    • Will affect the privacy rights of corporations
  • and there is much evidence that corporations are in fact being spied upon, by foreign governments, by the NSA, etc.
    • They Will Try to Ban Such Encryption Techniques
      • Stings (perhaps using viruses and logic bombs)
        • or "barium," to trace the code
  • perhaps even in their own time, via the assumption that employees who use illegal software methods in their own time are perhaps couriers or agents for their corporations (a tenuous point)

2.13.9. "Could anonymous markets facilitate repugnant services, such as killings for hire?"

  • Yes, though there are some things which will help lessen the full impact.
  • To make this brutally concrete, here's how escrow makes murder contracts much safer than they are today to negotiate. Instead of one party being caught in an FBI sting, as is so often the case when amateurs try to arrange hits, they can use an escrow service to insulate themselves from:
  1. From being traced, because the exchanges are handled via pseudonyms
  2. From the killer taking the money and then not performing the hit, because the escrow agent holds the money until the murder is verified (according to some prototocol, such a newspaper report...again, an area for more work, thankfully).
  3. From being arrested when the money is picked up, as this is all done via digital cash. There are some ways to reduce the popularity of this Murder, Incorporated system. (Things I've been thinking about for about 6 years, and which we discussed on the Cypherpunks list and on the Extropians list.)

2.14. Miscellaneous

2.14.1. "Why can't people just agree on an approach?"

  • "Why can't everyone just support my proposal?"
  • "I've proposed a new cipher, but nobody's Cypherpunks just never do anything!"
  • This is one of the most consistently divisive issues on the list. Often a person will become enamored of some approach, will write posts exhorting others to become similarly enamored, urging others to "do something!," and will then, when no interest is evidenced, become irate. To be more concrete, this happens most often with various and sundry proposals for "digital money." A close second is for various types of "Cypherpunks activism," with proposals that we get together and collect a few million dollars to run Ross Perot-type advertisements urging people to use PGP, with calls for a "Cypherpunks radio show," and so on. (Nothing wrong with people doing these things, I suppose. The problem lies in the exhortation of others to do these things.)
  • This collective action is always hard to achieve, and rightly so, in my opinion. Emergent behavior is more natural, and more efficient. And hence better.
    • the nature of markets, agents, different agendas and goals
      • real standards and markets evolve
  • sometimes because of a compelling exemplar (the Walkman, PGP), sometimes because of hard work by standards committees (NTSC, electric sockets, etc.)
  • but almost never by simple appeals to correctness or ideological rightness

2.14.2. "What are some of the practical limits on the deployment of crypto, especially things like digital cash and remailers?"

  • Lack of reliable services
  • Nodes go down, students go home for the summer, downtime for various reasons
    • Lack of robustness

2.14.3. "Is crypto dominated by mistrust? I get the impression that everything is predicated on mutual mistrust."

  • We lock our doors...does this mean we are lacking in trust? No, it means we understand there are some out there who will exploit unlocked doors. Ditto for the crypto world.
  • "Trust, but verify," as Ronald Reagan used to say. Mutual mistrust can actually make for a more trustworthy environment, paradoxical as that may sound. "Even paranoids have enemies."
  • The danger in a trusting environment that lacks other mechanisms is that "predators" or "defectors" (in game- theoretic terms) can exploit this trusting environment. Confidence games, scams, renegging on deals, and even outright theft.
  • Crypto offers the opportunity for "mutually suspicious agents" to interact without explicit "trust."

2.14.4. "Who is Detweiler?"

  • S. Boxx, an12070, ldxxyyy, Pablo Escobar, Hitler, Linda Lollipop, Clew Lance Simpleton,, Jim Riverman
    • often with my sig block, or variants of it, attached
    • even my phone number
    • he lost his ColoState account for such tactics...
    • electrocrisy
    • cypherwonks

2.14.5. "Who is Sternlight?"

  • A retired policy analyst who is often contentious in Usenet groups and supportive of government policies on crypto policy. Not nearly as bad as Detweiler.

2.15. More Information and References

2.15.1. "Where can I find more information?"

  • Well, this is a start. Also, lots of other FAQs and Mosaic home pages (URLs) exist, encompassing a vast amount of knowledge.
  • As long as this FAQ is, it can only scratch the surface on many topics. (I'm especially amused when someone says they've looked for a FAQ on some obscure topic. No FAQ is likely to answer all questions, especially obcure ones.)
  • Many articles and papers are available at the site, in pub/cypherpunks. Look around there. The 1981 Chaum paper on untraceabel e-mail is not (too many equations for easy scanning), but the 1988 paper on Dining Cryptographers Nets is. (I laboriously scanned it and OCRed it, back when I used to have the energy to do such thankless tasks.)
    • Some basic sources:
  • Sci.crypt FAQ, published regularly, Also available by anonymous ftp at And in various URLs, including: - URLs for sci.crypt FAQ: xxxxxx
    • RSA Data Security Inc. FAQ
  • Bruce Schneier's "Applied Cryptography" book, 1993. Every reader of this list should get this book!
    • The "online generation" tends to want all material online, I know, but most of the good stuff is to be found in paper form, in journals and books. This is likely to be the case for many years to come, given the limitation of ASCII, the lack of widespread standards (yes, I know about LaTex, etc.), and the academic prestige associated with bound journals and books. Fortunately, you can all find universit libraries within driving range. Take my advice: if you do not spend at least an entire Saturday immersing yourself in the crypto literature in the math section of a large library, perusing the "Proceeedings of the Crypto Conference" volumes, scanning the textbooks, then you have a poor foundation for doing any crypto work.

2.15.2. "Things are changing quickly. Not all of the addresses and URLs given here are valid. And the software versions... How do I get the latest information?"

  • Yes, things are changing quickly. This document can't possibly keep up with the rapid changes (nor can its author!).
  • Reading the various newsgroups is, as always, the best way to hear what's happening on a day to day basis. Web pages, gopher, archie, veronica, etc. should show the latest versions of popular software packages.

2.15.3. "FUQs: "Frequently Unanswered Questions"?"

  • (more to be added)
  • With 700 or more people on the Cypherpunks list (as of 9409), it is inevitable that some FAQs will go unanswered when newbies (or others) ask them. Sometimes the FUQs are ignored because they're so stale, other times because to answer them is to continue and unfruitful thread.
    • "P = NP?"
  • Steve Smale has called this the most important new unsolved problem of the past half-century.
    • If P were (unexpectedly) proved to be NP
    • Is RSA and factoring in NP?
      • not yet proved
      • factoring might be easier
  • and RSA might be easier than factoring in general (e.g., chosen- and known-plaintext may provide clues)
    • "Will encryption be outlawed? What will happen?"
    • "Is David Sternlight an NSA agent?"
  • Seriously, David S. is probably what he claims: a retired economist who was once very senior in government and corporate policy circles. I have no reason to doubt him.
  • He has views at odds with most of us, and a baiting style of expressing his views, but this does not mean he is a government agent as so many people claim.
    • Not in the same class as Detweiler.