1997-06-03 - Who “invented” remailers?

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From: Tim May <tcmay@got.net>
To: cypherpunks@Algebra.COM
Message Hash: 30f4fc8e6224ca46f17b1639e18794b49b0810d443963d8d1a3a378d7f5a1721
Message ID: <v03102807afba566172be@[]>
Reply To: <>
UTC Datetime: 1997-06-03 23:57:13 UTC
Raw Date: Wed, 4 Jun 1997 07:57:13 +0800

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From: Tim May <tcmay@got.net>
Date: Wed, 4 Jun 1997 07:57:13 +0800
To: cypherpunks@Algebra.COM
Subject: Who "invented" remailers?
In-Reply-To: <>
Message-ID: <v03102807afba566172be@[]>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

At 2:29 PM -0700 6/3/97, Hallam-Baker wrote:
>> >There is absolutely nothing that the anti-government ranters contribute
>> >to the pro-cryptography movement. They are a liability at best. Stuart
>> >Baker is even now probably peddling his Clipper chip initiative in
>> >Europe holding up one of Jim Bell's rants as "proof" of his case.
>> Nothing except motivation.  Anti-government ranters founded this list,
>> invented remailers, and did a lot of other good work.
>Actually remailers were invented by a lass called Stephi whose hobbies
>appeared to include being tied up for fun. The original remailer
>operating out of wizvax was a script that allowed anonymous posts
>into alt.sex.bondage. Then it was expanded to support a couple of
>other newsgroups such as alt.abuse. When Stephi ran out of cash to
>keep wizvax running (I have a suspicion it was something expensive
>power wise) Julf took over the code and the scripts.

While I didn't make the claim that remailers were invented by us, I think I
understand Duncan's point to refer to "true" remailers, not the
Kleinpaste/Julf form used in anon.penet.fi.

And even these were not "invented" by us, but rather were implementations,
initially by Eric Hughes and Hal Finney, then by several others (the
refinements, by Matt Ghio and Lance Cottrell, and the "premail" scripts of
Raph Levien, and others), of David Chaum's 1981 "digital mixes."

The Kleinpaste/Julf "remailer" lacks basic security provisions, and is more
properly called an "anonymizing service," in my opinion. (I'm not familiar
with the "Stephi" story, but I know Kleinpaste wrote up a simple
anonymizing service, which he claims he did in one evening, and decided not
to support it; he transferred the code to Julf, who supported and (I
presume) enhanced it, and the rest is history).

The Julf anonymizing service was of course vulnerable to legal attacks, and
several were mounted. Julf shut the system down at about the time two of
them were causing him great trouble, the Scientologist suit, and the front
page article in a British tabloid saying his site helped child
pornographers (which is undeniably true, of course).

>I'll accept that the ranting faction do some good work but I've
>not seen anything usefull out of either Bell or Vulis unless that
>is you are an FBI agent looking to get a promotion from Freeh.

This member of the "ranting faction" is happy with what he is done. I am
not a C++ programmer and have no interest in spending my life worrying
about malloc and buffer overruns. I am of course glad that some folks do
make this their life's work.

At the first Cypherpunks physical meeting I spent a couple of hours
educating people on how Chaumian mixes work, and why they are important for
free speech and the colonization of cyberspace. I set up a paper game,
beforehand, which we played as a simulation to directly demonstrate the
important features of mixes, including message posting areas (later dubbed
"message pools" by Miron Cuperman, one of the earliest hosts of a
remailer), remailer chaining (something the Kleinpaste/Julf service cannot
offer), digital postage (which we explicitly simulated with play money
included in the envelopes), and, of course, encryption at each stage.
(Encryption was easily simulated with paper envelopes. Chained encryption
was envelopes within envelopes. Etc.)

This was in September of 1992, at the meeting organized by Eric Hughes and
myself, and attended by about 25 of the best hackers we knew in the Bay
Area, drawn from those we knew from the Hackers Conference, the Crypto
Conference, and the usual Bay Area overlapping circles (Xanadu, AMIX, VPL,

The very next day, Sunday, Hugh Daniel, Eric Hughes, and I were reflecting
on the previous day's 12-hour meeting/dinner. The two of them--I can never
remember which one exactly--opinined that some hacks of sendmail could
allow such remailers to be built. So one weekend Eric spent two days
working on this, the first day learning enough Perl to proceed, and the
next day coding up such a hack of sendmail. He released it, and the first
crude "remailer" of the "strip headers off and resend" sort was launched.

Within a month or less, Hal Finney had added PGP encryption features.

Within a few months, about a dozen remailers existed. Chaining a message
back and forth through subsets of these remailers, encrypted at each stage,
and even going through the same remailer multiple times, was now possible.
The "mix entropy" of this routing is quite large, and is certainly vastly
more robust than Julf's anonymizer service.

(A law enforcement officer of some country might be able to find the exit
point of a message, but would then have to get "backward collusion" through
the system, into various countries. Such collusion is unlikely. Further,
some of the remailer operators have a "no logs kept" policy, so back
collusion is almost impossible. And one can always route messages through
one's self as a remailer--assuming one operates a remailer--and destroy all
records automatically and then claim completel innocence and ignorance to
the narc who shows up demanding to see message logs. By the way, in America
at least it is very difficult to get blanket warrants to search all e-mail.)

And so this was very probably what Duncan meant when he said some of the
ranting faction were the inventors of remailers.

(Both Eric and Hugh are known to rant, or at least have done so at various
times. Eric had some memorable rants at the 1995 CFP when he loudly
declared to the National Research Council fact-finding committee, "I am a
crypto anarchist.")

So, Phill, we members of the "ranting faction" have had some impact.

Frankly, I don't think the world would be better served if I went back to
school to study number theory and became another Odzylko or Shamir, even if
my genetics allowed it. Nor do I think becoming a Perl hacker is my calling.

I'm satisfied with my contributions, even if you think the ranters are
doing nothing to help the causes you apparently support.

As they say in your country, tally ho!

--Tim May

There's something wrong when I'm a felon under an increasing number of laws.
Only one response to the key grabbers is warranted: "Death to Tyrants!"
Timothy C. May              | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
tcmay@got.net  408-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
W.A.S.T.E.: Corralitos, CA  | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
Higher Power: 2^1398269     | black markets, collapse of governments.
"National borders aren't even speed bumps on the information superhighway."