Known as the "godfather of cryptocurrency," American cryptographer David Chaum has significantly impacted the fields of digital security and privacy.
American cryptographer David Chaum has significantly impacted the fields of digital security and privacy, and was the creator of Ecash — the first attempt at building a working digital currency.
Source: Yahoo Finance
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Born in 1955 in New York City, Chaum has spent his entire career making new cryptographic algorithms that protect sensitive data in the digital age. He is now recognized as the "godfather of cryptocurrency" as well as the "father of online anonymity."
Chaum has an outstanding academic record and has authored a significant number of important publications throughout the course of his career. He attended UC Berkeley alongside Bill Joy, the founder of Sun Microsystems, and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011.
When Chaum published a paper titled "Untraceable Electronic Mail, Return Addresses, and Digital Pseudonyms," he established the groundwork for the whole topic of anonymous communications.
These three papers, in addition to Chaum’s other work on cryptography, have been described as the technical roots of cryptography’s most influential and pioneering movement: the Cypherpunks.
While Chaum was a student at Berkeley, US government organizations like the NSA grew more antagonistic and skeptical of citizens conducting cryptography research. According to Chaum, they were attempting to halt all cryptographic development. He also claimed that top NSA officials had threatened to have whole groups of civilian cryptographers arrested.
Ecash, which Chaum built through the DigiCash corporation, was the first attempt to build a working digital currency. This is how it worked: users would download the Ecash software, which would store their money digitally by having a bank cryptographically sign it. They could then spend it online or at participating shops and restaurants without opening a bank account or needing a credit card. Payments were free for individuals, just like with some credit cards, but there was a tiny cost for businesses.
Chaum was one of two keynote presenters at the first World Wide Web conference in Geneva while serving as CEO of DigiCash. Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, was the other speaker. While speaking live in front of the crowd, Chaum carried out the first-ever Ecash transaction.
Despite having a promising beginning, Ecash didn't become the overnight sensation that many had envisioned. Only one American bank, the Mark Twain Bank in St. Louis, adopted it, and only 5,000 people registered to use it during its original three-year trial. Ecash did, however, grow in popularity in Europe, where cash was still widely used. Early in 1998, a few other banks, including Credit Suisse in Switzerland and Deutsche Bank in Germany, partnered with Ecash. But it wasn’t enough: DigiCash closed its doors at the end of the year.
Several theories seek to explain why DigiCash failed. Two cryptographers who participated on the project, Nick Szabo and Zooko Wilcox O'Hearn, hypothesized that Ecash's major issue was centralization. Most of the big banks lacked faith in DigiCash, a single company that oversees the complete operation of a digital currency. Instead, a decentralized network was needed so users could send virtual currency directly to one another. A network like Bitcoin, for instance.
Fast forward, Chaum was shocked and appalled by the Snowden revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance scheme in 2013. He doesn’t believe that mainstream communication apps that promise ‘end-to-end encryption,’ like WhatsApp, will give people more privacy or protection from the government. “It's criminal. It's exploitative of the public in the worst way,” he said, “because the real value in the information is the traffic data…the sender's social graph and its relation to the timing of events.” According to Chaum, it could be used politically, as demonstrated by the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandals.
In order to provide individuals with a means of communication hidden from the NSA's prying eyes, he made the decision to create a totally private, secure, and decentralized messaging and payment network. Chaum's network was able to encrypt messages' content and conceal the identity of the sender by enhancing the mixing technologies that he helped create in the early 1980s. This heightened privacy was accomplished by removing any metadata that would have shown who sent what to whom.
According to Chaum, the xx network needed to work faster than networks like Tor, which can't give users enough speed to safely contact several people at once. The xx network accomplished this by using smaller groups of nodes to achieve "a uniform mixing" of messages, thereby blending all users’ messages together. In around two and a half seconds, each message travels via five randomly selected nodes, disguising which message belongs to whom. For a bad actor to be able to read a message, it would require five totally random nodes to cooperate, which would be highly unlikely.
“Privacy in messaging and payments, and the like, is so fundamental to democracy. It’s now time to choose, as this is the key differentiator between future civilizations.”
The Evidence That David Chaum Could Be Satoshi Nakamoto
#1 He Has the Right Technical Skills and Academic Background
Not only does David Chaum have a degree and a doctorate in computer science, but he’s also contributed countless papers to the cryptography and computer science fields. Of all the people who could be Satoshi, David Chaum is probably the most academically qualified.
#2 He Was a Cypherpunk
Chaum was one of the earliest Cypherpunks, and a large part of the group’s work and discoveries were based on Chaum’s ideas.
#3 He Invented Ecash, the Forerunner to Bitcoin
There are a few different contenders for “the Bitcoin before Bitcoin,” but Chaum’s Ecash was undeniably the first global attempt at building a working digital currency. While it didn’t succeed, it provided a foundation on which all future cryptocurrencies were built.
#4 He Almost Invented Blockchain
Blockchain technology is integral to Bitcoin, and Chaum is often credited with the invention despite not quite finishing the idea.
He almost perfectly described blockchain in his thesis “Computer Systems Established, Maintained, and Trusted by Mutually Suspicious Groups.” The only element Chaum missed was proof-of-work, which wasn’t invented until seventeen years after he published the paper.
The Evidence That David Chaum Likely Isn’t Satoshi Nakamoto
#1 A Lack of Direct Evidence
Almost all the evidence suggesting that David Chaum secretly invented Bitcoin is circumstantial. Yes, he’s qualified and experienced, but there’s no direct link between him and Bitcoin.
#2 He Took Credit for Building a Digital Currency Before
Chaum developed Ecash out in the open, for the whole world to see. Would he suddenly revert to operating under a pseudonym to invent Bitcoin? If so, why?
So, do you think David Chaum created Bitcoin?