2G/ Evolution and Structure of Cryptographic Thought

From IIW

Evolution and Structure of Cryptographic Thought

Tuesday 2G

Convener: Will Abramson

Notes-taker(s): Will Abramson

Tags for the session - technology discussed/ideas considered:

Cryptography. Evolution of knowledge. Genesis and development of a scientific fact.

Discussion notes, key understandings, outstanding questions, observations, and, if appropriate to this discussion: action items, next steps

Cryptography emerged as an academic discipline in the 1970’s with the introduction of public key cryptography by Whitfield Diffie, Martin Hellman and Ralph Merkle. Since then it has become a highly systematised area of human knowledge, built on strong mathematical foundations that have been developed across the last 500 years. At least.

This systematisation of knowledge was directed by conceptual descriptions of ideal distributed digital systems that researchers throughout the 80’s anticipated would be useful and important for an advanced information society. They were looking to the future that we now inhabit and imagining the tools and technologies that would empower individuals, protect privacy and promote decentralisation.

David Chaum in his 1985 paper Security without Identification stated.

“The architecture chosen for these systems may have a long-term inpact on the centralization of our economic system, on some of our basic liberties and even on our democracy”

In this paper Chaum proposed developing a cryptographic credential mechanism that has many parallels to the work of SSI.

This session reflected on how cryptographic primitives and protocols have been developed to meet the requirements of the conceptual idea proposed by Chaum. It also questioned whether the identity community really acknowledges or appreciates the rich fund of knowledge that has and continues to be produced within the cryptographic discipline.

Cryptographic thought products have matured from abstract theoretical concepts, to well defined, provably secure and efficient cryptographic protocols realised in a concrete mathematical setting.

Not only that but these thought products are now transitioning from theory to practice, with implementations and the experience of implementing these protocols increasing exponentially. It is now possible to design software artifacts that can guarantee some of their properties such as security, forward-secrecy and non-correlation from well understood mathematical equations as opposed to trust that must be placed in an organisation to act responsibly.

I just wonder if we as a community really understand and appreciate what cryptography can do, and what it will be able to do for us in the future.

Digital signatures are only the beginning.

Related Material


  • What can our community learn from the work within the cryptographic discipline?

  • How do we ensure we are building systems that are flexible enough to incorporate the cryptographic innovations coming down the line instead of restricting them?

  • Why are advanced cryptographic techniques that have been developed over the past 50 years specifically to preserve privacy within digital interactions so often overlooked or dismissed in favour of a basic digital signature scheme?