Behind the Scenes of The Crypto Project

When a small group of activists announced the debut of The Crypto Project earlier this year, for many, ahem, mature, security and privacy advocates it brought to mind memories of the original cypherpunk movement that began in the 1990s and that group’s seminal efforts to encourage the use of strong cryptography and anonymity online, as well as its successes and failures. The two groups are not allied by anything other than ideology, but The Crypto Project’s leaders are aiming to follow in the footsteps of the cypherpunks, build on their accomplishments and make security and privacy tools freely available to the masses.

When a small group of activists announced the debut of The Crypto Project earlier this year, for many, ahem, mature, security and privacy advocates it brought to mind memories of the original cypherpunk movement that began in the 1990s and that group’s seminal efforts to encourage the use of strong cryptography and anonymity online, as well as its successes and failures. The two groups are not allied by anything other than ideology, but The Crypto Project’s leaders are aiming to follow in the footsteps of the cypherpunks, build on their accomplishments and make security and privacy tools freely available to the masses.

The group is working on a number of projects right now, including setting up an anonymous remailer, putting up a Convergence notary and setting up a Tahoe-LAFS grid. All of the work is being done by volunteers and the services will be available to the public.

Like some of the members of the cypherpunks movement, the folks behind The Crypto Project prefer to remain anonymous, but one of the leaders of the group, known as Sir Valiance, agreed to answer some questions about the project via email. Sir Valiance also solicited input from other members of the project and people who participate in discussions on the group’s IRC server, and he/she incorporated that input into the answers below. This is part one of the interview, and part two is available here.

Threatpost: What are the goals of the Crypto Project?

Sir Valiance: I believe that it is possible to create an organization
that makes security, privacy, and anonymity accessible to everyone.  I have always said that people should not
have to know their way around the command line to achieve those three
goals.  Having the option to choose
whether our data and communication is to remain private or public is a
fundamental human right. The importance is the freedom and ability to have that
choice. So the question then becomes, how does The Crypto Project reach those
goals?

The Website

The Crypto Project is currently in its infancy, and we
are still ironing down the infrastructure of the website and its
organization.  I would break our project
down into four groups: the website, the network, the software, and the community.

The main goal of the website is to become an authoritative/reliable/current resource for those learning how
to achieve privacy, security, and anonymity. This would range from the average
internet user to developers and security/cryptography experts.  A user should be able to come to the site
with a question like “How can I send secure email?” and be able to
find a guide, an explanation, and tools that they can trust in order to achieve
that. In the same manner, a developer should be able to go to the site with the
question “How can I properly setup SSL on my webserver?” and feel
confident in understanding and execution that they went about it in the best
manner possible.  Researchers and
academics should also be able to visit the website and find a wonderful
collection and aggregation of papers and research for appropriate topics. 

We also hope to eventually have videos, screencasts, and
more. Tom Ritter is working on a Code Audit Feed tool to monitor security
projects, I am in the process of organizing a podcast, and there have even been
talks of creating a Cypherpunk University (the idea an hybridized Kahn
Academy-esque service and institution that would be networked amongst all of
the hackerspaces out there for learning). 
The original concept behind The Crypto Project was to also get itslf
into a position where it could fund research projects and developers to work on
open source projects (somewhat like Ycombinator meets Google Summer of Code). I
think if we were ever in a position of considerable resources, I would like to
travel down that path as well. It is best to have big dreams and goals, for
without them we will never be able to progress as a society and push things
forward.

The Network

We are planning on building a large network of anonymity,
privacy, and censorship circumvention services. 
These can be tools like Anonymous Remailers, Tor Exits and Bridges,
Tahoe-LAFS storage servers, and more.  If
it helps individuals around the world achieve those goals and freedoms, we will
try to build it and run it.

Now, by saying “The Crypto Project Network”,
that does not necessarily mean that we control or run all of the servers and
services in the network.  By controlling
most of the services and servers in our “network”, it could reduce
the effectiveness of privacy, anonymity, and decentralization of each
service.  Therefore, the main goal has to
be to provide the resources and information to individuals to allow them to quickly
and easily setup services of their own to contribute to the global effort of
censorship circumvention, privacy, security and anonymity.

The Software

We hope to create, assist in creating, promote, and help
others use software to achieve privacy, security, and anonymity.  One of the biggest issues with making such
software accessible to everyone is creating better user interfaces. A common
problem amongst security tools is they require command line knowledge,
programming knowledge, or other higher level computer skills.  To allow everyone to the freedom and ability
to use such tools, we need to design them in a manner that presents them as
approachably as possible. Eric Hughes said it best, “Cypherpunks write
code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and …
we’re going to write it.”.  The
Crypto Project aims to coordinate, build, promote, and write such tools.

The Community

The Crypto Project also has the goal of bringing the
security, cryptography, and development communities together to work on
projects, discuss ideas, and unite to create progress. To do this, we must
provide open and active ground for communication and allow everyone to work
together efficiently and intelligently.

Developers are often pushed away from writing
cryptosystems and privacy tools because they don’t fully understand the attacks
they can come under.  We’d like to
develop a community where, if you are interested in writing such a tool, you’re
helped so you gain a better understanding of the threat models you must
consider.  Rather than discouraging
people from developing privacy tools, we want to encourage it, and link
talented developers with talented crypto/privacy experts so everyone benefits
from a robust, easy-to-use, and most importantly secure program or service.

The Internet is the greatest creation of mankind and we
cannot sit back and watch as the beautiful freedom it allows be stripped apart
by the greedy, selfish, and power hungry individuals who which to control
it.  It is the duty of those who have the
knowledge and ability, whether you are a developer, cryptographer, or security
expert to protect that freedom, because if we don’t preserve it, there are
those who will strip it away from us.

Cypherpunks set out to prove that change, whether
political, economic, or social could be achieved through building software that
grants the user power of privacy, anonymity, and security.  The next movement will make these tools so
pervasive and accessible that everyone and anyone can use them.

Threatpost: What do you hope to accomplish in the shorter term?

Sir Valiance: In the short term , we hope to structure the project and
set us on a path to achieve our long term goals.  To do so, we must:

– Develop the proper software to allow the website to be
a valuable, easy to edit resource

– Begin building the groundwork for our
security/anon/privacy network

– Build a fertile ground for
developers/activists/cryptographers/security experts and more to meet, discuss
ideas, and begin to work together and coordinate the development of software
and a network to achieve our goals.

Hopefully, by achieving this, we can give ourselves a
platform to build a great service to the world.

Threatpost: Who is involved in the project?

Sir Valiance: We have a brilliant, kind, passionate, intelligent and
helpful group of people that hang out on IRC discussing current issues,
software projects, and more.  I would
consider anyone there that hangs out part of the project or movement (unless of
course they don’t want association). We
have more active members with regard to project itself and some are there for
the conversation. Many names and figures
you would recognize from the security community, some pseudonyms, and
more.  You could always drop in at
#cryptodotis on irc.oftc.net and find out yourself!

There is a group of members actively working on projects
under the banner of Crypto.is, but just as importantly, there is a community of
experienced experts on the mailing list and IRC channel. Tor developers, anonymity service providers
and developers, industry security professionals – even the regulars are often
surprised to hear a nick in the channel speak up and talk about what he works
on.

Part two of this interview is available here.

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Discussion

  • Anonymous on

    It would be nice if there was an email contact listed on the Crypto Project website. Since there is not....... Is it possible to set a Debian Wheezy system to route ALL DNS requests through Tor? I believe the debs from the Torproject offer ttdnsd for Sid, but not for Wheezy. I placed the following in the torrc, but don't believe this is enough to route ALL DNS queries through tor: DNSListenAddress 127.0.0.1 DNSPort 53
  • Anonymous on

    Just a quick thanks and congratulations for your work, a nice balance to the googles of the world :)
  • Anonymous on

    Very excited to learn of this resurgence of effort, and the focus on making these tools and deeper understanding accessible to the general public. Every educational effort is valuable because it introduces (at least) a few more people to an awareness of the issues at stake, and allows them to make informed decisions. It's something I care about deeply but in which I have not had sufficient resources to invest, apart from conversationally advocating and raising the topic and sharing what I know anecdotally. Thank you for doing this -- all the more important in an age of increasing surveillance both commercially (Google) and politically (more and more goverments).

  • Anonymous on

    None of this sounds like anything mom, pop and grandma could get their heads around.

    ...or would even try to!

  • Anonymous on

    I miss the days of PGP and Cyber Knights Templar... Hope the project delivers on the interface and ease of use...

    Rmplstlkn

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