It took Christopher Allen, one of the forefathers of the modern cryptographic protocols, longer than you might think to discover Bitcoin.
A co-author of the OpenSSL/TLS protocol for encrypting and sending data over the web, first developed in the late 1990s, the crypto pioneer didn’t become involved in Bitcoin until 2014. Having been familiar with the concept of digital cash (and even trying to crack the problem himself way-back-when), Allen made Bitcoin the focus of his work soon after discovering it.
The cryptographer was one of the first employees at Blockstream, a leading Bitcoin tech firm co-founded by OG cypherpunk Adam Back, before he went on to establish his own Bitcoin development hub. The Blockchain Commons, as it’s called, was founded as a non-profit to bolster free and open-source development for blockchain projects, principally those related to Bitcoin. Allen acts as its executive director and principal architect.
Now, Allen is taking his decades of experience to initiate a new class of developers into the realm of free and open-source software (FOSS). Usually, the Commons accepts one intern each summer, but this year, it’s taking on seven after receiving 20 or so applications.
According to Allen, the surge in interest, while unexpected, is an optimistic sign for the future of FOSS development, an area of software curation that can often be neglected for lack of funding.
“In past summers when I’ve offered internship opportunities, I’ve received a number of qualified CVs from students. What is different this year is the number and the greater quality,” he told Decrypt.
“A successful business ecosystem must find ways to nurture new talent and give them the context, else risk not finding the talent needed for the ecosystem to grow.”
A bleeding heart
When Allen started the Blockchain Commons, he had two primary motivations, he said. And the first was to learn some hard lessons from history.
The TLS protocol he helped develop in 1999 fell prey to the infamous Heartbleed bug in 2014. At the time, trillions of dollars worth of commerce were conducted over one instance of the TLS protocol, handling some 60% of the TLS protocol’s traffic in the early days.
OpenSSL/TLS is a standard for encrypting communications over internet applications like email, instant messaging, VPNs, and more. But when exploited, the Heartbleed bug “allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users,” according to Silicon Valley term firm Synopsis, which developed a website dedicated to explaining the bug.
“I don’t want to see that happen again,” Allen said.
And according to the Blockchain Commons founder, the more development hubs crack away on Bitcoin, the less likely such a bug will worm its way into the dozens of protocols and applications that…