The Cryptography Renaissance

The past week will go down in history as a significant moment. It will be remembered as that point in time when we, the United States, realized the fine line between Nanny State and Police State in this country really doesn’t exist. And from a technology perspective, this week will mark the rebirth of the Cypherpunk culture.

I’ve always been a crypto geek. I actually read Applied Cryptography a decade or so ago. I remember closely following the NIST AES competition, rooting for Bruce Schneier’s Twofish only to see Rijndael be crowned the victor. I implemented DES and RSA for a smartcard terminal using C libraries via JNI for embedded Java because the client didn’t trust Java for the crypto. And I remember when PGP was treated as a more dangerous weapon than an AK47 by our government.

Then things calmed down. The wild west of the internet extinguished a lot of the flames fanning the cypherpunk fires. TCP/IP and HTTP don’t recognize international boundaries. The government and military were too busy learning how to take advantage of these technologies for themselves to worry much about spying on everyone else. For example, while in the Air Force, I was in one of the early kick-off meetings for Intelink. On the sign-in sheet, they had a column for email address. Barely 10% of the people in the room had one.

The days of the free-loving, wild west internet are coming to a close. We allow that businesses spy on us for advertising purposes, but now we’re learning how much Big Brother is doing it too. And we should be worried. There is a new generation of geeks, teamed with the gray-beards of the early movement, who will now be interested in empowering the secure, private exchange of ideas. A renaissance of cryptography is upon us.

Unfortunately, this new crop of cypherpunks is working at a major disadvantage. The collusion of government and industry working together means many popular technologies are insecure. Can anyone really trust Java, .NET and Windows, given it is completely certain that Oracle and Microsoft are willing partners of the government? And what about Apple with iOS and OS X? Are we to believe they took a stand and put their foot down?

This cryptography renaissance is going to be an Open Source renaissance. Desktop Linux will always be a niche, but I expect to see more developers using it. Open languages like Ruby, Python, SBCL, Haskell, and even C, will be the tools of this new generation.

The fight for privacy is going to be fierce. But as Dr. Ian Malcom said, life will find a way. In this case, I believe technology and privacy will find a way.

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