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The legendary cryptographer talks about building the first blockchain in the 90s

May 21, 2020

In an exclusive interview with Cointelegraph, the renowned cryptographer Jean-Jacques Quisquater talks about the structure of the first internet blockchain in the 1990s and is quoted in the Bitcoin White Paper.

In 1989 Quisquater started working for the Philips Research Laboratory in Brussels, where he had worked for 19 years on the transition from analog to digital media.

“The goal was to capture a current (analog) situation in real life and find out how to deal with it in digital systems,” said Quisquater.

We did this for the analog signatures, the time, the location … and we discovered many problems, some of which still need to be properly resolved, but we paid particular attention to this in good time (we call it time stamp).

The legendary cryptographer talks about building the first blockchain in the 90s
The legendary cryptographer talks about building the first blockchain in the 90s

In the same year, after researching specific situations where timestamps are critical, the research laboratory had a series of “very positive meetings with Belgian notaries”.

Creation of the first blockchain

Quisquater stated that the research laboratory created a system in which the digital signatures of notaries are used to time stamp documents that communicate across a distributed network and are stored in a database:

Together with notaries, we imagine a system in which notaries can convert documents into a digital version (the PDF was not available at the time), place a digital signature on it and send it to a central authority that notaries trust (in In Belgium we call it l’Ordre des Notaires (a central location), at that time there was some digital communication between notaries via modems (forget the internet).

“The next problem was what to do in the middle,” said Quisquater. “We are therefore planning to use cryptographic hash functions to securely record the receipt of messages without the possibility of changing them with the digital signature of the central authority (ordre des notaires).”

And one day I discovered that it was possible to use this without using such signatures if the entire file (string) was public to all notaries. The (block) chain concept was created!

Quisquater noted, however, that the laboratory was also experiencing increasing financial difficulties, which led to its closure in late June 1991.

Timesec birth

Quisquater then started working at UCLouvain University in Belgium, “in a very bad position” where he received “the lowest possible salary for a professor”, and only worked for half an hour.

In 1996, however, he received a grant from KULeuven University together with Bart Preneel to work on a project called Timesec.

“The idea was to introduce standards at the ISO level [Organización Internacional de Normalización] and from the IETF [Grupo de Tareas de Ingeniería de Internet] about secure digital time for a more secure tool like NTP [Protocolo de Tiempo de Red]Quisquater said.

The cryptographer reports on articles by Scott Stornetta and Quisquater’s old friend Stuart Haber, which offer an innovative insight into the use of hash functions for the time stamping at that time. These articles are also cited in the White Paper. Bitcoin.

Building the first blockchain

After receiving the scholarship, Quisquater began working with Haber on implementing the first blockchain on the emerging Internet:

“Stuart’s first blockchain used the NYTimes to publish the hash values ​​(surety.com). It still exists. We use blocks (Merkle’s real idea) that are linked with two safe hash functions (if any) to break) and a safe pseudo-random generator. “

According to Quisquater, the IETF “was not really interested in our (overly complicated) ideas, but the ISO was able to publish a working draft and then an ISO standard for blockchains [que] it continued until recently. “

Five documents were written about the project, including “Designing a Secure Timestamp Service with Minimum Trust Requirements,” the second reference in the Bitcoin White Paper.

The Haber and Quisquater system did not include any mining.

Hardware Wallet Maker hires Quisquater

Last week, EAL7 manufacturer of security-certified hardware wallets, Ngrave, announced the appointment of Quisquater as a consultant before launching its flagship Zero Wallet.

Quisquater said he would advise the company on “how to secure a chip, a physical object, and how to ensure that a cryptographic algorithm is correct,” in addition to the “general security rules”.

Rubén Merre, co-founder and CEO of Ngrave, told Cointelegraph that the founders of Ngrave met Quisquater for the first time in October 2018, which led to cooperation in the area of ​​crypto security.

“It was clear that Quisquater had the same vision as the Ngrave team,” said Merre, noting that the Ngrave team explained the reinvented key generation process at the next personal meeting, and Quisquater explained this team to do the same thing had in mind. “

“In the first half of 2020, the interactions became more frequent and Quisquater was finally formally involved,” added Merre.

Quisquater has also advised 12 blockchain startups and four ICOs (initial coin offerings) and has given at least 25 lectures on blockchain in the past three years.

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