The Secret History Of CRYPTO

Learn about the secret history of the word CRYPTO and read about its roots in intelligence gathering and espionage with infosec writer Guise Bule.

The Secret History Of CRYPTO

If somebody tells me that crypto means cryptology just one more time, I am going to hurt them. Yes, I know that in some circles crypto really means cryptology and yes, I know that hordes of unwashed shitcoin lovers think of crypto as something else. If any of you try and explain it to me just one more time, I will poke you in your eye.

The amount of crypto posturing I see in my Twitter feed is maddening, every man and his dog in infosec seems compelled to signal their 'position' by repeating some variation of crypto means X that they heard somebody else say and thought was funny.

CRYPTO MEANS X they explain to anyone who will listen to them.

The infosec space clearly resents the shitcoin space for co-opting the word and the general sentiment in shitcoin space is that infosec people are yellow monkeys, whatever the hell that means, I keep hearing it in amongst their idle chatter.

Of course nobody wants to agree on a definition and because everyone is constantly arguing about the word crypto, its seeped out into the mainstream consciousness and is rapidly approaching mystical money magic status in the eyes of people who could never hope to understand what the hell we are all arguing about.

I am not discussing it with you any more, its a futile, pointless, limp and insipid conversation every goddamn time. You see, when you have a contrarian streak running through you like I do, your duties involve standing in the middle of the crypto posturers and telling them exactly how stupid they look. Best job I ever had if the truth be told, even if it does make me wildly unpopular sometimes.

I could not care less what you crypto posturers think, all I know is that posturing around an abstract position because you think its cool is lame and so are you.

If You Confuse Them, You Lose Them

The word CRYPTO is bandied about by people on both sides of the spectrum and generously sprinkled on a whole bunch of wildly different things and the problem is that nobody can agree on its meaning, scope and nature. That does not stop the word from flourishing in our conversations, literature, hype and speculations though.

Depending on who you speak to and depending on whatever madness the speaker happens to have in their head when they speak it, CRYPTO can mean something different to anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in that conversation.

Remembers kids, if you confuse em you lose em and right now you are confusing the heck out of just about everyone who doesn't properly understand tech.

I think its best to call things by their full names; cryptofascism, cryptocurrency, cryptography, or cryptology, then nobody gets confused or worked up. A lot of people seem confused about what CRYPTO really means, so lets take a moment to work out what is going on here and delve into the history of the word CRYPTO.


It's pronounced κρυπτός you fiends.

If you knew what you were talking about, then you would know that in biblical Greek it's spelt κρυπτός, and also that the word stress falls upon the penultimate syllable.

Nobody expects you to learn biblical Greek, but it is deeply interesting to learn about and understand the etymology of the word for this conversation.

κρυπτός - A persistent threat to Spartan institutions, the secret service used by the Athenians in their subject states, people in disguise.

When working in the subject states, it was often best to keep your work hidden and your operations a secret, κρυπτό was the name of the game in those days and it was played by two Athenian military officers, General Eukles & General Thukydides.

General Thukydides was the first military officer to enforce strict standards of impartiality and analysis when it came to intelligence gathering. He did not tolerate any of his analysts talking about the deities in their reports and God help the new guy who reported that an event had occurred because of divine intervention. Say what you like about General Thukyides, but he was a General who properly understood the self-interest and fear that lives in the hearts of men and could leverage it effectively.

Graveyard Of The Athenian Secret Service

Eukles was in Amphipolis but he was lacking in military forces because Thuckydides was half a days sailing distance away in Thasos with seven ships full of men under arms. The story of Eukles all alone in Amphipolis is hidden, but it is clear that Thukydides was up to something, you can tell from the way he never talks about it. The Generals were suffering from a lack of information about what was happening around them, back in those days the Athenian Secret Service was still in its infancy and they were operating in a region where Athenians were hated by the locals.

The Generals had struggled to recruit and handle local assets, meaning that they were starved of good information to help guide their decisions, what few assets they did have in the region were being spotted and slaughtered in the field.

Brace Yourself, The Spartans Are Coming

At the time Amphipolis was living beneath the iron fist of the Spartan General Brasidas and we know that they were troubled times because Aristotle used to like to tell stories about Amphipolitans being slaughtered on a regular basis.

Quite what the Athenian Generals and their Athenian acquaintances were up to in the region we do not know, but we do know that Amphipolis was previously the most important Athenian subject city in the Chalkidike region because of its gold mines. We also know that a Spartan force lead by General Brasidas had recently taken the city from the Athenians by force and that his Chalcidian cavalry had slaughtered Athenians as they withdrew their people from Amphipolis in retreat.

The Amphipolitans, caught in the middle of this biblical slaughter, saw General Brasidas as a savior because they hated and feared the Athenians. This contributed to one of the most hostile operating environments you can imagine for General Eukles who was working undercover in Amphipolis to nurture some Athenian acquaintances into a spy network that General Thuckydides could leverage effectively.

The Hidden People

The Athenian Secret Service is where where the word CRYPTO originally came from, the κρυπτός were the bane of Spartan bureaucrats, a secret service used by the Athenians in their subject states and they were hidden people operating in secrecy.

The dictionary defines CRYPTO as a person who secretly supports or adheres to a group, party, or belief, it can also mean something that is secret or hidden and all of these definitions are almost right. Somewhere over the centuries we seem to have forgotten that CRYPTO originally referred to a secret and hidden spy and that the people who first practiced κρυπτός were some of the first professional spies in history.

The original κρυπτός were thee hidden people, those who operated in secrecy.

Once you understand this you can see why so many words are prefaced by the word CRYPTO, its a nod at the secret and hidden element in the words definition.

Now that you understand the real definition of the word, please stop posturing.

The wonderful image used to head this story is called 'Secret Keeper' and was created by Chavilah.