Tech

Infosec debate rages over meaning of the word ‘crypto’

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.

“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:

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) are the latest pyramid scheme of our times. People cough up for a .jpg copy of a picture created by some unrelated third party and hosting that copy on a random blockchain can somehow make it worth great sums of money, at least in some people’s eyes.

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.”

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 one of the buttons in the poll below and let us all know. ®

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