Before Bitcoin

8 minute read

Short-form Crypto Fundamentals

-by Infominer


💲 History of Money

Pre Digital Cryptography

Digital Cryptography

  • The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography [ϟ]

    “Simon Singh offers the first sweeping history of encryption, tracing its evolution and revealing the dramatic effects codes have had on wars, nations, and individual lives. From Mary, Queen of Scots, trapped by her own code, to the Navajo Code Talkers who helped the Allies win World War II, to the incredible (and incredibly simple) logisitical breakthrough that made Internet commerce secure, The Code Book tells the story of the most powerful intellectual weapon ever known: secrecy.”

Hash Algorithms

Public Key Cryptography

  • Publishing a new idea by Ralph C. Merkle

    In the Fall of 1974, as an undergraduate, I enrolled in CS244, the Computer Security course offered at UC Berkeley and taught by Lance Hoffman. We were required to submit two project proposals, one of which we would complete for the course. I submitted a proposal for what would eventually become known as Public Key Cryptography – which Hoffman rejected. I dropped the course, but kept working on the idea.

  • Part 1Part 2 about the development of public-key cryptography.

    For a more complete version, read:
  • CRYPTO— how the code rebels beat the government— saving privacy in the digital age -Steven Levy
  • THE OPEN SECRET —Public key cryptography - the breakthrough that revolutionized email and ecommerce - was first discovered by American geeks. Right? Wrong.

    The story of the invention of public key cryptography is a cypherpunk sacred text: In 1976, an iconoclastic young hacker named Whitfield Diffie hooked up with Stanford professor Martin Hellman, and together they devised what experts hailed as the most important development in crypto since the invention of polyalphabetic ciphers during the Renaissance. The duo produced a system that allowed an unlimited number of people to communicate with total privacy.

David Chaum

Distributed Systems


  • Bitcoin and the rise of the Cypherpunks
    • 1980s, Dr David Chaum
    • late 1992, Eric Hughes, Timothy C May, and John Gilmore founded cypherpunks
    • The Cypherpunks mailing list was formed, and a few months later, Eric Hughes published “A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto“.

      “Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy. A private matter is something one doesn’t want the whole world to know, but a secret matter is something one doesn’t want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.”

    • Notable Cypherpunks:
      • Jacob Appelbaum: Tor developer
      • Julian Assange: Founder of WikiLeaks
      • Dr Adam Back: Inventor of Hashcash, co-founder of Blockstream
      • Bram Cohen: Creator of BitTorrent
      • Hal Finney: Main author of PGP 2.0, creator of Reusable Proof of Work
      • Tim Hudson: Co-author of SSLeay, the precursor to OpenSSL
      • Paul Kocher: Co-author of SSL 3.0
      • Moxie Marlinspike: Founder of Open Whisper Systems (developer of Signal)
      • Steven Schear: Creator of the concept of the “warrant canary”
      • Bruce Schneier: Well-known security author
      • Zooko Wilcox-O’Hearn: DigiCash developer, Founder of Zcash
      • Philip Zimmermann: Creator of PGP 1.0
    • In 1997, Dr Adam Back created Hashcash
    • Later in 1998, Wei Dai published a proposal for “b-money”,
  • Cypherpunks Write Code ϟ
  • Untold History of Blockchain
    • Phil Zimmerman creates PGP(‘91), the first publicly available encryption allowing people to communicate using 128-bit encryption and Diffie-Hellman for key management. Zimmerman published PGP code in book form to strengthen its case as freedom ofspeech.
    • Open Source software development
    • Peer to peer sharing

Pre-Bitcoin Digital Currency



Additional Resources

  • P2P Foundation Wiki
  • A Survey of Anonymous Communication Channels - 2008

    We present an overview of the field of anonymous communications, from its establishment in 1981 from David Chaum to today. Key systems are presented categorized according to their underlying principles: semi-trusted relays, mix systems, remailers, onion routing, and systems to provide robust mixing. We include extended discussions of the threat models and usage models that different schemes provide, and the trade-offs between the security properties offered and the communication characteristics different systems support.

  • UNITED NATIONS COMMISSION ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY FOR DEVELOPMENT - 17-21 May 2010, Geneva, Switzerland: Technology Driven Universal Currency Improvements and Innovations in Existing Financial Mechanisms

    Today close to 90% of our financial transactions have a computer-only reality, no coins, and no bills. But the bits and bytes reflect national currencies defined as paper money equivalent. The next level in the increasing abstraction of credit, risk and value is to mint a currency natively defined as a string of bits. Bitdefined currency features the utmost flexibility in storage and movement, as well as in reflecting value, risk, and credit distribution.