Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Secretly Admiring

Quick! Name the speaker:

In a lot of countries, statements like “this person is over 18”, “this person is a citizen”, the governments will sign those statements. When you go into a chat room, for example, in Belgium, they’ll insist that you present not necessarily the thing that says who you are, but the thing that says the government says I’m over 18. This trust ecosystem has so much good designed for privacy. This thing is amazing, where you can prove who you are to a third party and then, in the actual usage, they don’t know who you are. A lot of the previous designs had the idea that if you authenticated, then you gave up privacy. There are lots of cases where you want to be authentic but not give up your privacy – or not give up your privacy except in extreme cases.

No, it’s not Austin Hill, circa 1999. I’d be happier if Zero-Knowledge had made us all rich, but I’m happy that the ideas that we evangelized, and that Credentica and others are building…I’m happy that these ideas are spreading to the point where Bill Gates presents them in an interview. There’s a great many longtime former cypherpunks out there, helping people imagine a better future.

That imagining is important. Phillip Hallam-Baker (who has the best roundup of the RSA Cryptographers Panel I’ve seen) quotes Ron Rivest:

It takes about 15 years for ideas to go from concept to use. Identity based crypto may be becomming the right approach to authenticated email.

What happens along that 15 year path is that a lot of small companies come along, build great new technologies that solve a part of a problem, and then eventually, through iteration, creative destruction, skill and luck, one of them builds something that really does a great job for customers.

[Update: Corrected the spelling of Phillip Hallam-Baker’s name.]

One comment on "Secretly Admiring"

  • Victor Lighthill says:

    Not to disrespect Ron Rivest or Credentica’s Stefan Brands, but patenting your ideas in crypto is, historically, a great way to ensure that it takes them 15 years to go from concept to use.

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