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The Cypherpunks list was created around 1993 as a discussion list for the social and technological implications of the widespread use of cryptography, the feasability of cryptoanarchy, and other issues related to cryptography. It rapidly mutated into a discussion list involving privacy, politics, and libertarian philosophy.

By about 1997, the majority of the original list members have fled. The popularity and usefulness of the Cypherpunks list went downhill from there. This was primarily because the list no longer discussed cryptography. The list had always had problems with flamewars and trolls, such as L. Detweiler, but the problem kept getting steadily worse.

By mid 1998, the signal-to-noise ratio of the mailing list had dropped to an all-time low. Some dedicated list members stayed on and continued producing some signal, ignoring the noise.

At some point in 1998 or 1999, Jim Choate, administrator of the relay node at ssz.com, decided (for no apparent reason other than to annoy everyone else) to prepend "CDR: " to the subject lines of all postings passing through his node. This horribly broke message threading. Choate's response was:

2. Like I give a fuck what you find annoying or aesthetically pleasing, and if it breaks your filtering then fix your filtering (that after all is a personal problem).

Choate was promptly rebutted by an anonymous poster who, by all accounts, left the list and hasn't been heard from since.

Spam flooded in from such sites as the New York Times, as well as random habitual spammers. The major sites were spamming the list because it was "solicited". That is, someone was going to their web site and signing the list address up to gain access, so that they could get the welcome mail and their password from the list, instead of getting spam in their mailbox until hell froze over.

The problem continued to get worse and worse. By early 2000, discussions about how to handle the spam problem were commonplace, and popped up about once every six weeks. Among some of the proposals:

  • Don't accept mail from people who aren't subscribed to the list.

  • Require a subject line tag which must be present or the list will not send the mail.

  • Require that a header line be added, or the list will not send the mail.

    There were other options too. All of them were rejected for political reasons. People advocating the implementation of such options were called censors.

    In July of 2000, a script kiddie attacked the Cypherpunks mailing list. The method of attack was a web site written by a bunch of people who appeared nothing less than incompetent called sparklist.com. Within a short period of time on July 10th, 2000, well over a hundred messages were sent to the Cypherpunks list by sparklist.com. Each message was then sent to every subscribed user.

    Predictably, users didn't take well to it. They called sparklist.com's tech support, who promised to stop the attack and send a formal apology to the list. They lied.

    What developed next was a flame war over whether what sparklist.com did was actually wrong. The list was divided into two camps: those who thought that sparklist.com was totally incompetent and was responsible, and the majority of active posters who thought that sparklist.com bore no fault at all and that the first group was a bunch of censors and freedom haters.

    One poster wrote on July 11th (and, indeed, the posting came as I was writing this node):

    Of course, the list software could be altered to stop relaying mail from somebody after an excessive number of mails were received from them within a short period of time. That will never happen for various political reasons, for the same basic reasons that the list will probably never be set up to only accept mail from subscribers and remailers, and this kind of abuse will continue unabated. At the same time, the signal to noise ratio has been virtually zero for at least a year, mainly because the level of noise is just so damned high. (With "noise" being defined as "can u tel me how 2 mak a bomb?", general spam, and targetted DoS attacks like what just happened.)

    That probably indicates that the peak of the Cypherpunks list was long ago (which we all know anyway), but that it passed into old age and senility quite a while back.

    Shortly thereafter, I unsubscribed from the list in utter disgust, as surely did plenty of other users, some lurkers, some contributors.

    Here lies the Cypherpunks list,
    Once a haven for intellectual discussion of privacy and cryptography,
    But eventually a victim of its own founders,
    And their own misapplication of anarchist philosophy.

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