Cypherpunk refer to a group of individuals championing the use of cryptography to challenge existing social and political status quo concerning privacy, and contributes to the development of privacy-focused technologies to support the movement.
The subculture was launched by software developers in the hacker community that communicated their ideologies via a mailing list, bound with a shared goal in mind – to develop free and open-source software that is aimed at achieving privacy and security through the use of cryptography. Today, the term generally refers more to anyone who shares, champions and contributes to the same fundamental ideologies.
Cypherpunk Mailing list
Cypherpunks’ mailing list was started in late 1992 by Eric Hughes, Timothy C. May, and John Gilmore used to communicate and discuss topics ranging from cryptography, computer science, mathematics amongst many other ideas. The list was rumoured to have garnered over 2,000 members at its peak and some of the ideas regularly discussed on the platform is said to have inspired the creation of Bitcoin in early 2010s.
Eric Hughes described the cypherpunk movement in the infamous cypherpunk manifesto written in 1993 and the excerpts below summarize the groups’ ideology.
“Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. … We cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy … We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. … Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and … we’re going to write it”.
Satoshi Nakamoto began coding the first implementation of Bitcoin in May 2007. In August of 2008, he sent a private email to two well-known cypherpunks to ask for their feedback on early versions of the Bitcoin white paper. Their response was positive feedback, telling him they found it very promising.
Satoshi went ahead to involve many cypherpunks in the early stage of Bitcoin’s development and almost all of Bitcoin’s early developers were members of this cypherpunk’s mailing list.