The cypherpunk movement promotes the use of cryptography and other privacy-focused technologies to advance social and political progress.

What Is a Cypherpunk?

The practice of cryptography was limited to the militaries and spy agencies of the world until about the 1970s. In the 70s, the U.S. National Bureau of Standards, in cooperation with the National Security Agency, published the Data Encryption Standard, an encryption algorithm developed by IBM. In 1976, pioneering cryptographers Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman published their New Directions in Cryptography paper.
Both publications brought cryptography to the attention of the general public, which led to the formation of Cypherpunks by the late 1980s — a movement of activists who advocated the use of cryptography by individuals to promote personal privacy and freedom. In 1992, the Cypherpunks mailing list was started, reaching 700 subscribers by 1994, and as many as 2,000 by 1997.

In the mailing list, members discussed mathematics, cryptography, computer science, as well as had arguments on political and philosophical topics. The Cypherpunks were questioning the issues of government monitoring and corporate control of information about a decade before they became a public concern, thanks to whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. An average of 30 messages per day were transmitted on the list between 1996 and 1999.

One of the core notions of Cypherpunks is to realize good ideas, not just discuss them. As such, they have designed many cryptography-based privacy-focused applications that are still in widespread use today, like the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) program for secure data communication. Cypherpunk ideas and achievements have led to the creation of the Tor project for private web browsing and cryptocurrencies, the first of which was Bitcoin (BTC).

A number of well-known personalities in the crypto industry, like Nick Szabo and Adam Back, are members of the Cypherpunks.