The Evolution of Crypto

Crypto used to refer to cryptography, the study of protecting the confidentiality and integrity of information. It is one of the purest branches of computer security. Theoretical cryptography is almost fully governed by the laws of mathematics and physics. The only breakthrough possible is through the discovery of a faster algorithm to solve an existing difficult mathematical problem or the invention of computers that are an order of magnitude faster than those today. Cryptography is rarely concerned with the more human matters. It does not discriminate between a terrorist encrypting messages or the military encrypting secret orders, and will gladly offer the same level of security to both. Modern cryptography is built on advanced mathematical concepts like modular arithmetic and elliptic curves. Introductory level cryptography modules are often offered only at final year undergraduate or postgraduate level. Needless to say, it is a field reserved for the most brilliant of minds.

Crypto today refers to cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency relies on cryptography to provide confidentiality, integrity and non-repudiation. These are important properties that ensure the coins in your wallet stay safe, that wallet balances cannot be tampered with, and that transactions cannot be reversed. Unfortunately, this is where the similarities end. Cryptocurrency is almost fully governed by the laws of economics, that of supply and demand. It is marred by the greed and folly of humanity. Greedy exchange operators who run away with their client's money. Greedy investors who only look at the return on their investment. Foolish enthusiasts who worship crypto gods that predict the next hottest coin. Few in the cryptocurrency community truly understand the cryptographic primitives, the basic building blocks of cryptocurrency. The very sanctity of cryptography is being violated when they start rolling back the blockchain because of human errors, or mark certain inputs as stolen or tainted.

The recent news on Quadriga's founder's death locking up $140m brings this full circle. $140m has just been locked up in an encrypted hard disk. Your false prophets cannot save you now. Only the crypto gods of the old, those schooled in mathematics, low level hardware and firmware have a shot.