Crypto for cryptographers! Infosec types revolt against use of ancient abbreviation by Bitcoin and NFT devotees
Complaints abound that yoof use it to mean 'digital currency'
Poll Infosec must "reclaim" the word crypto from people who trade in Bitcoins and other digital currencies, according to industry veteran Bruce Schneier – and it seems some Reg readers agree while others disagree.
"I have long been annoyed that the word 'crypto' has been co-opted by the blockchain people, and no longer refers to 'cryptography'," blogged Schneier in a classically brief post on Monday.
He linked to a Guardian featurette about the use of the prefix crypto, which is now mostly synonymous in the public mind with sharp-suited hucksters pumping improbable get-quick-rich scams based on cartoon memes.
"'Crypto' for decades has been used as shorthand and as a prefix for things related to cryptography," Amie Stepanovich, executive director of Silicon Flatirons Center at the University of Colorado Law School, insisted to the Grauniad. She is credited as the creator of a series of twee T-shirts emblazoned "Crypto: It means 'cryptography'".
Alex Bloor, MD of altnet Andrews & Arnold, posted a similar plea to Stepanovic's on Twitter:
Please can we take back the term "crypto" to mean cryptography and not cryptocurrency?— 𝗕𝗹𝗼𝗼𝗿 ᶦˢ ˢᵗᶦˡˡ ᵘⁿᶜᵒⁿᵛᶦⁿᶜᵉᵈ ᵇʸ ᵇˡᵒᶜᵏᶜʰᵃᶦⁿ (@alexbloor) November 16, 2021
Cryptography was here before cryptocurrency, matters more to society, and offers more benefit to the world than harm. Cryptocurrency, not so much.
John Young, creator of the venerable classified document repository Cryptome, observed: "Cypherpunk is the passphrase to crypto."
Upon using adtech firm Google's search engine to look up cryptopunkery, we discovered the first page of results were all advertising Cryptopunks (note plural) as "a non-fungible token collection on the Ethereum blockchain."
In its original form, cryptopunk was another term for a cypherpunk, a late 1980s US subculture devoted to online privacy.
Non-fungible tokens (aka NFTs) appear to be the latest pyramid or money-laundering schemes of our times. People cough up some currency for a copy of a .jpg, with a receipt of this baffling decision preserved in a random blockchain, and it's all supposed to be worth great sums of money, at least in some people's eyes.
- GPU makers increasingly disengage from crypto miners
- A crypto-trading hamster is outperforming the S&P 500, Nasdaq, Bitcoin
- NSA: We 'don't know when or even if' a quantum computer will ever be able to break today's public-key encryption
- Cryptography whizz Phil Zimmermann looks back at 30 years of Pretty Good Privacy
Meanwhile, Chris Kubecka, chair of the Middle East Institute and infosec veteran, pointed out that languages naturally evolve.
"Words change over time, morph, etc," she said in a tweet. "The general public has likely heard the term crypto for cryptocurrency vs encryption more often."
Sophos threat researcher Andrew Brandt chipped in with Schneier-esque brevity, telling your correspondent: "Crypto means cryptography." Brandt's message was initially echoed by Neil Brown, tech lawyer at decoded.legal, but he later amended this – with a straight face, as he told us – to say: "Does anyone really give a toss? I mean, really?"
Kubecka added: "Most in infosec are young; many are ladies. Asking a grey beard shouldn't be a standard for how terms are used today."
Then there's the point that crypto- means secret or hidden, from the Greek kruptos, so should it really automatically default to cryptographic? Does cryptography get to snatch it up exclusively?
As the debate rumbles on, we have decided to calm the situation by opening the floor to you, dear reader. What do you think of the word? Mash the buttons in the poll below and let us all know. ®