is an ideology
that expounds the use of strong public-key cryptography
to enforce privacy
and individual freedom
. It is described by Vernor Vinge
as a cyberspatial realization of anarcho-capitalism
. Crypto-anarchists aim to create cryptographic software
that can be used to evade prosecution and harassment while sending and receiving information in computer networks
. Timothy C. May
wrote about crypto anarchism in Cyphernomicon
What emerges from this is unclear, but I think it will be a form of anarcho-capitalist market system I call "crypto-anarchy.
Using such software, the connection between the identity of a certain user or organisation and the pseudonym they use is almost entirely unprovable, unless the user reveals the connection. It is difficult to say which country's laws will be ignored, as even the location of a certain participant is unknown. In a sense, the encrypted anonymous networks (the "cipherspace") can be regarded as an independent, lawless territory. However, participants may in theory voluntarily create new laws using smart contracts or, if the user is pseudonymous, depend on online reputation.
One motive of crypto-anarchists is to defend against surveillance
of computer networks communication. They try to protect against things like telecommunications data retention
, the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy
and Room 641A
, among other things. Crypto-anarchists consider the development and use of cryptography to be the main defense against such problems, as opposed to political action.
A second concern is evasion of censorship, particularly internet censorship, on the grounds of freedom of expression. The programs used by crypto-anarchists often make it possible to both publish and read information off the internet and other computer networks anonymously. Tor, I2P, Freenet and many similar networks allow for anonymous "hidden" webpages only accessible by users of these programs. This greatly helps whistleblowers and political opposition in oppressive nations to spread their information.
Thirdly, the technical challenge in developing these cryptographic systems is tremendous, which interests some programmers into joining the projects.
Criticism and response
Crypto-anarchism is often criticized for making it easy for criminals to make use of the networks to coordinate sabotage
. Assassination markets
is a good example of the way in which crypto-anarchism could be used to these ends. Crypto-anarchists acknowledge that such freedom could be abused by criminals, but claim that criminals are already communicating anonymously, so that the networks will just bring the benefits of privacy
and freedom of anonymity to ordinary people.
In response to the criticism, crypto-anarchists argue that without the ability to encrypt messages, personal information and private life would be seriously damaged. A ban on cryptography is equal of the eradication of secrecy of correspondence. They argue that only a draconian police-state would criminalize cryptography. In spite of this, it is already illegal to use it in some countries, and export laws are restrictive in others. Citizens in England must, upon request, give passwords for decryption of personal systems to authorities in England. Failing to do this can result in imprisonment for up to two years, without the suspicion of committed crimes. Crypto-anarchists (and cypherpunks) argue that the laws of mathematics are stronger than the laws of man, and that crypto-anarchism therefore is inevitable: as long as there is a minimum of free speech, it is impossible to stop people from transmitting encrypted messages. Thus, it is impossible to stop the spread of crypto-anarchism. To truly enforce a ban on the use of cryptography is probably impossible, as cryptography itself can be used to hide even the existence of encrypted messages (see steganography). It is also possible to encapsulate messages encrypted with illegal strong cryptography inside messages encrypted with legal weak cryptography, thus making it very difficult and uneconomical for outsiders to notice the use of illegal encryption.
Crypto-anarchism relies heavily on plausible deniability
to avoid censorship. Crypto-anarchists create this deniability by sending encrypted messages to interlinked proxies
in computer networks. With the message a payload of routing information is bundled. The message is encrypted with each one of the proxies and the receiver public keys
. Each node can only decrypt its own part of the message, and only obtain the information intended for itself. That is, which node is the next hop in the chain. Thus, it is impossible for any node in the chain to know anything else but the previous and next node in the chain or what information they are carrying to the receiver as those parts of the information are hidden. The receiver also does not know who the sender is, except perhaps by another destination
, digital signature
or something similar. Who originally sent the information and who is the intended receiver is considered infeasible to detect. See onion routing
for more information.
Thus, with multiple layers of encryption, it is effectively impossible to know who is connected to any particular service or pseudonym. Because summary punishment for crimes is illegal, it is impossible to stop any potential criminal activity in the network without enforcing a ban on strong cryptography, and this is probably impossible as seen above.
Deniable encryption and anonymizing networks can be used to avoid being detected while sharing illegal or sensitive information, that users are too afraid to share on the ordinary Internet. It could be anything from anti-state propaganda, reports of abuse, whistleblowing, reports from Chinese dissidents and child pornography.
Untraceable, privately issued electronic money
and anonymous internet banking
exists in these networks. Digital Monetary Trust
were examples of two such anonymous banks that are now put offline, eCache
is a bank currently operating in the Tor
network, and Pecunix
is an anonymous (submitting personal information when opening an account is optional) gold bank operating on the internet. Anonymous trading is easier to achieve for information services that can be provided over the Internet. For example, the developers of I2P
receive anonymous or pseudonymous
monetary support from the I2P community. Providing physical products is more difficult as the anonymity is more easily broken when crossing into the physical world. Untraceable money makes it possible to ignore some of the laws
of the physical world, as the laws cannot be enforced without knowing people's physical identities. For instance, tax on income for online services provided pseudonymously can be avoided if no government knows the identity of the service provider.
This should not be confused with the use of the prefix "crypto
" to indicate an ideology or system with an intentionally concealed or obfuscated "true nature". For example, some would use the term "crypto-fascist
" to describe an individual or organization that holds fascist
views and subscribes to fascist doctrine but tries to hide this agenda from those outside of itself. However, Timothy C. May
indicates that the term "crypto-anarchist" was partially intended as a pun
on this usage, even though he did not intend to conceal his beliefs or agenda.