Created By: superluser on May 24, 2011 Last Edited By: superluser on January 10, 2012

Cypher Punk

Punk meets strong cryptography

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Very similar to (and often a subgenre of) Cyber Punk, Cypher Punk is a genre devoted to the rising importance of strong cryptography (the opposite of Hollywood Encryption). People use strong cryptography for much of their everyday communications, and it's not unusual to see entire plots hinge on whether a communication channel is safe. The term gained currency out of the cypherpunks mailing list, and many of the goals of the cypherpunks (such as privacy, anonymity and/or pseudonymity, and information freedom) are in the genre fiction.

Cryptography is ubiquitous and usually used to free the public (although it may also be used to oppress them), it provides the backbone for a network of communication, and there can be incredible money in keeping a good reputation for honest trading of strong crypto. Unlike other punk settings, Cypher Punk is often set much closer to today, often simply Next Sunday A.D.. And while it's often not able to provide cybernetic enhancement or destroy the environment, it can easily be paired with Cyber Punk to provide those aspects to any story.

Cryptography isn't just used to provide a private channel for communications in these stories, either. Cryptography can be used for purposes ranging from indentification and authentication to verifying integrity to obfuscating salient details to anonymizing people or business transactions.


Community Feedback Replies: 14
  • May 24, 2011
    In the 1977 novel The Adolescence of P-1, the A.I. P-1 discovers that the U.S. army has a secret cryptographic protocol that also has data compression. It is so secret that the Army won't let the Navy or other organizations use it or know how it works. P-1 starts to use it to keep his communications secret and compressed, and the very fact that such a secret encryption is being used by someone else tips off the government about P-1's activities.
  • May 25, 2011
    I think Cryptonomicon is worth mentioning specifically for ol' Neal. Especially considering that Snow Crash and Diamond age have zip to do with cryptography (I haven't read his later novels and can't comment on them).
  • May 25, 2011
    Yes, the name sake of Cryptonomicon is basically a cryptography-bible, which really says something about it.
  • May 26, 2011
    Should we include nonfiction?
  • May 26, 2011
    Isn't the X-punk concept inherently fictional? i.e. the concept is that in setting X compared to reality, a particular technology is significantly more advanced and often is a more significant contribution to the economy (I originally wanted to say more valuable, but it's often less valuable because it's so common).

    That said, many of the Punk Punk examples have real life examples, so feel free to add them. A non-fiction description of a proposed cryptosystem might be a good thing to include, for example. I'd just stay away from things like historical accounts of the Navajo codetalkers or things like that.

    I think I'll update this now, as well.
  • May 31, 2011
    Now that everyone's back from Memorial Day festivities, I'll give this a bump.
  • May 31, 2011
    The plot of Summer Wars revolves around a combination of a social networking site and mmorpg. Not sure if it counts.

    So it has the same relation to Cyber Punk as Bio Punk, nano punk, and Post Cyber Punk?
  • June 1, 2011
    Not sure if Summer Wars counts, either. On the pro side, it does feature the Magic Words, and a few plot points figure around modular mathematical operations on 2056-bit numbers (most likely a reference to factoring 2048-bit primes), but there's not much detail given on the encryption, nor is it ever used for anything other than securing entry to the system (in which case, it's little different than a digital key). If anyone else has a good reason to include/exclude this, speak up.

    Useful Notes for (strong) crypto might help, if there's any interest.
  • June 2, 2011
    Maybe Quicksilver could be called Steam Cypher Punk?
  • June 9, 2011
    well, technically Speculative Science Fiction counts as SF, and common inspirations of a genre are at least worth mention
  • June 9, 2011
    Did you create this just for the pun? (Note: This is a joke. This troper is not accusing you of anything)
  • June 10, 2011
    The pun? I'm not sure I understand. Cypherpunk is not a term that I have invented. According to the other wiki the term was coined by Jude Milhoun, when she was editor of Mondo 2000, which places it somewhere between 1989 (when Reality Hackers became Mondo 2000) and 1992 (when the cypherpunks mailing list was formed).

    It's also in the OED now.
  • January 9, 2012
  • January 10, 2012
    Pretty sure this is an Unbuilt Genre.