Crypto-Anarchy and Virtual Communities
by Timothy C. May
This paper describes the combination of two major technologies:
Strong Crypto: including encryption, digital signatures, digital cash, digital mixes
(remailers), and related technologies.
Cyberspatial Virtual Communities: including networks,
anonymous communications, MUDs and MOOs, and "Multiverse"- type
These areas have generally remained separate, at least in published
papers. Certainly the developers of cyberspace systems, such as MUDs,
MOOs, and Habitat-like systems, appreciate the importance of
cryptography for user authentication, overall security, and certainly
for (eventual) digital purchase of services. But for the most part the
combination of these two areas has been the province of the science
fiction writer, notably writers such as Vernor Vinge, William Gibson,
Bruce Sterling, and Orson Scott Card.
The "Cypherpunks" group, a loose, anarchic mailing list and group of
hackers, was formed by several of us in 1992 as a group to make concrete
some of the abstract ideas often presented at conferences. We've had
some successes, and some failures.
The Cypherpunks group also appeared at a fortuitous time, as PGP was
becoming popular, as Wired magazine appeared (they featured us on the
cover of their second issue), and as the publicity (hype?) about the
Information Superhighway and the World Wide Web reached a crescendo.
The site ftp.csua.berkeley.edu has a number of essays and files,
including crypto files, in the
directory pub/cypherpunks. I have also written/compiled a very large
(1.3 MB) FAQ on these
issues, the Cyphernomicon, available at various sites, including my ftp
directory, ftp.netcom.com, in the directory pub/tc/tcmay.
The Cypherpunks group is also a pretty good example of a "virtual
community." Scattered around the world, communicating electronically in
matters of minutes, and seeming oblivious to local laws, the Cypherpunks
are indeed a community, and a virtual one. Many members use pseudonyms,
and use anonymous remailers to communicate with the list.
The list itself thus behaves as a "message pool," a place where
information of all sort may be
anonymous deposited and anonymous received (since everyone sees the
entire list, like a
newspaper, the intended recipient is anonymized). Legal Caveat: Consult
your local laws before applying any of the methods described here. In
some jurisdictions, it may be illegal to even read papers like this
(seriously). In particular, I generally won't be giving ftp site
addresses for copies of PGP, remailer access, digital cash systems, etc.
These are well-covered in more current forums, e.g., sci.crypt or
talk.politics.crypto, and there are some unresolved issues about whether
giving the address of such sites constitutes (or "aids and abets")
violation of various export and munitions laws (crypto is considered a
munition in the U.S. and probably elsewhere.... Some nations consider a
laser printer to be a munitions item!).