The basic ideas are in this quote from "A Cypherpunk's Manifesto" (Eric Hughes, 1993):
Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. ... We cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy ... We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. ... Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and ... we're going to write it. ...
Some are or were quite senior people at major hi-tech companies and others are well-known researchers (see list with affiliations below). However, the "punk" part of the name indicates an attitude:
We don't much care if you don't approve of the software we write. We know that software can't be destroyed and that a widely dispersed system can't be shut down.
This is crypto with an attitude, best embodied by the group's moniker: Cypherpunks.
The first mass media discussion of cypherpunks was in a 1993 Wired article by Steven Levy titled "Code Rebels":
The people in this room hope for a world where an individual's informational footprints -- everything from an opinion on abortion to the medical record of an actual abortion -- can be traced only if the individual involved chooses to reveal them; a world where coherent messages shoot around the globe by network and microwave, but intruders and feds trying to pluck them out of the vapor find only gibberish; a world where the tools of prying are transformed into the instruments of privacy.
There is only one way this vision will materialize, and that is by widespread use of cryptography. Is this technologically possible? Definitely. The obstacles are political -- some of the most powerful forces in government are devoted to the control of these tools. In short, there is a war going on between those who would liberate crypto and those who would suppress it. The seemingly innocuous bunch strewn around this conference room represents the vanguard of the pro-crypto forces. Though the battleground seems remote, the stakes are not: The outcome of this struggle may determine the amount of freedom our society will grant us in the 21st century. To the Cypherpunks, freedom is an issue worth some risk.
The three masked men on the cover of that edition of Wired were prominent cypherpunks Tim May, Eric Hughes and John Gilmore.
Later, Levy wrote a book, Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government – Saving Privacy in the Digital Age, covering the "crypto wars" of the 90s in detail. "Code Rebels" in the title is almost synonymous with "cypherpunks".
The term "cypherpunk" is mildly ambiguous. In most contexts it means anyone advocating cryptography as a tool for social change, social impact and expression. However, it can also be used to mean a participant in the Cypherpunks electronic mailing list described below. The two meanings obviously overlap, but they are by no means synonymous. No concrete definition has ever been defined in terms of the word cypherpunk.
Documents exemplifying cypherpunk ideas include Timothy C. May's "The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto" (1992) and "The Cyphernomicon" (1994),"A Cypherpunk's Manifesto".
Read more about this topic: Cypherpunk
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