Many people are familiar with the hacker or cyberpunk subculture that has sprung from the creation of the Internet and the advancement of the information age. Less well known are some of the smaller groups that make up the larger cyberpunk subculture, such as cypherpunk, which combines the term "cipher," to indicate the interest in ciphers and cryptography, with punk, to indicate a certain disregard for authority. "Cypherpunk" can be used interchangeably to refer to either individual activists or to an overall philosophy. Primarily, cypherpunks advocate the use of cryptography as a tool for the protection of groups and individuals in a world where personal information has become more and more easily accessible. Cypherpunks also promote the use of technology and cryptology as a means to effect political change.
The cypherpunk movement began as a loosely connected group in the late 1980s and early '90s that communicated primarily through online mailing lists. It was heavily influenced by the hacker subculture, the growing concern over personal civil rights and the unsettling implications of government monitoring. This made the cypherpunk movement one of the first to recognize the growing issue of online privacy. To address these concerns, cypherpunks placed a large emphasis on the implementation of technology that supports their agenda, such as private encryption for secure anonymous networks, email, web browsing and financial transactions.
Since its grassroots beginnings, the cypherpunk movement has led to the creation of a number of active advocacy groups promoting online privacy. Cypherpunks also have been instrumental in the creation and dispersion of software commonly used to provide online anonymity, such as anonymous remailers and peer-to-peer systems. They involved themselves heavily in the highly political debates and legal issues surrounding the use of cryptography. This has had longstanding influence on the export and domestic use of cryptography. Cypherpunks have individually and as a group participated in lawsuits, civil disobedience, expert panels, public debates and, in certain cases, criminal activity.
The cypherpunk movement is often seen as a subgroup of the larger cyberpunk culture. Cypherpunks can also be referred to as coderpunks, although this term seems to imply a lesser degree of interest in the political and social agenda of the movement. They usually are well educated and accomplished in the use of cryptography and computer programming. In spite of the implications of the term "punk," cypherpunks span a wide range of incomes, ethnicities and social classes.