Anonymity is Sacrosanct

 
The Relationship of cryptography and Encryption with the Internet
Arianne Zajac

 

Cryptography, simply put, is the art of writing and solving codes. However, it has become something much more significant on the internet, where it is these codes which are used to protect information and communication in the form of encryption. Cryptography really entered the public consciousness in the late 2000s with the creation of Bitcoin, the first ever cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies are digital currencies in which encryption techniques are used to generate units of the currency, verify transfers and funds, and allow it to operate independently of a central bank. Cryptocurrencies rely heavily on anonymity and this goes right down to the moment that Bitcoin was created.

Now, Satoshi Nakamoto is not a household name, however, it is likely that you have heard of it before. But do you know who Satoshi Nakamoto is? Well, here is the great answer. No one does. Satoshi Nakamoto was the founder of Bitcoin and “mined” the first ever Bitcoins, but that is pretty much all anyone knows.

There has been a lot of speculation about Nakamoto’s identity and many individuals have been investigated. Hal Finney and Dave Kleiman were both suspected of being Satoshi Nakamoto but both have since died.

Hal Finney was a pioneer in cryptography and he actually received the first ever transaction of Bitcoin from Satoshi Nakamoto. However, Finney produced evidence of e-mails between him and Nakamoto, and denied the claim, resulting in people believing that he might have been more involved than he claimed to be but he was not the founder. Dave Kleiman, on the other hand, was described as an avid cryptographer, highly skilled with encryption focused software. It is true that he did have contact with Satoshi Nakamoto, but there is not much more to connect him than that.

 

Cryptocurrencies rely heavily on anonymity and this goes right down to the moment that Bitcoin was created.

To further complicate the investigation, Craig Wright has come forward as Nakamoto but his claim is dubious. He has digitally signed messages with cryptographic keys during the early days of Bitcoin, which are inextricably linked to the cryptographic keys created by Satoshi Nakamoto. These signatures have since been claimed as forgeries by other computer science experts in the cryptography and encryption community.

In 2019, Wright claimed that Bitcoin was, in fact, a group effort and Hal Finney and Dave Kleiman were involved, but that Wright remained the driving force behind Bitcoin. Later that year a successful lawsuit was filed by the Dave Kleiman Estate which ruled that Wright had defrauded Kleiman of Bitcoins and intellectual property. Significantly, the court also ruled that this was not a decision on whether Wright was Satoshi Nakamoto, meaning that we are no closer to the truth.

That is not the only dark side to Bitcoin or cryptography. In 2013, Ross Ulbricht was arrested by the FBI and charged with money laundering, computer hacking, and trafficking narcotics. Why? All because he set up the website Silk Road which became one, if not the, most notorious websites on the dark web. You could find everything on here, and, again, the website hinged on anonymity. It was encrypted and utilised anonymised IP addresses – making sure those who were using it for illegal services and products were difficult to find – and, of course, the currency it utilised was Bitcoin, which was known for its anonymity in transactions.

It was not the huge amount of illegal drugs sales and the ease with which they could be purchased which would establish the Silk Road, it would be its dedication to anonymity through cryptography. Above all, the Silk Road was a political statement which claimed that “the selling of drugs should not be prohibited, people are free to do what they want, and there is now the technology to do so.”

 Cryptography developed as a means to provide everyone privacy and anonymity on the internet and was quickly taken up by individuals, like Ulbricht, who felt that there was too much state intervention.

Interestingly, it is actually the actions of the FBI, in relation to the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, which have really spurred on the development of cryptography. It is claimed that Ulbricht was discovered through the finding of servers, based in Iceland, which resulted in the confiscation of their information. Little to nothing has been released surrounding how the FBI acquired the information and location of these servers. Instead, many believe that the FBI used hacking techniques to discover this information, as the FBI’s story doesn’t seem to fit with the evidence and also explains why it has been so secretive. It appears that the FBI is prosecuting people for hacking through hacking. In light of this, many cryptographers have been developing software for everyday use which can withstand government surveillance.

 

“It seems that governments are doing all they can to resist increased anonymity for the individual on the internet.”

It is now 2020 and almost 10 years since cryptography began to take off with Bitcoin. We can see that the need to secure anonymity on the internet has increased. However, anonymity appears to be taken at a price, either of the price of individuals or illegal activities. It seems that governments are doing all they can to resist increased anonymity for the individual on the internet. This could be through basic regulation, such as the European Union’s fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5MALD), in which a registration process that verified basic personal details was established, making it almost impossible to buy cryptocurrencies anonymously. Or resistance appears in more extreme forms, such as through government surveillance, which has been highlighted by the Snowden leaks and the Ulbricht Trial. What can be said for the future is that cryptography looks set to make the rules of how we interact with the internet, whether that is a direct consequence of creating anonymity or an indirect consequence of widespread regulation and surveillance.

 

First published February 2020. Volume 15, Issue 2. “Cryptography Acrylic”, by Lauren Ross