Legendary cryptographer talks about the construction of the first blockchain in the 1990s

In an exclusive interview with Cointelegraph, the renowned cryptographer, Jean-Jacques Quisquater, talks about the construction of the first Internet block chain in the 1990s and being quoted in the

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White Paper.

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

„The goal was to take a current (analog) situation in real life and figure out how to handle it in digital systems,“ Quisquater said.

We did that for analog signatures, time, location … and discovered many problems, some still to be solved correctly, but we took special care with time (we call it timestamping).

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After investigating specific situations where time registration (timestamping) is crucial, the research laboratory had a series of „very positive meetings with Belgian notaries“ during the same year.

Creating the first blockchain
Quisquater stated that the research laboratory produced a system in which notaries‘ digital signatures are used to time documents that are communicated over a distributed network and stored in a database:

We imagined, together with the notaries, a system where the notaries could convert the documents into a digital version (the pdf did not exist at that time), put a digital signature on it and send it to a central authority trusted by the notaries (in Belgium, we call it l’Ordre des Notaires, a central location). At that time there were some digital communications between notaries using modems (forget about the Internet).

„The next problem was what to do at the central location,“ Quisquater said. „Then we imagined using cryptographic hash functions to securely record the reception of messages without the possibility of changing it with the central authority’s digital signature (ordre des notaires)“.

And one day I discovered that it was possible to use that without the use of such signatures if the whole file (chain) is public for all notaries. The concept of (block)chain was created!

However, Quisquater pointed out that the laboratory also experienced increasing financial difficulties, which led to its closure at the end of June 1991.

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Birth of Timesec
Quisquater then began working for the Belgian university, UCLouvain, „in a very bad position“ where he was paid „the lowest possible salary for a professor“, and worked only half an hour.

However, in 1996, he received a scholarship together with Bart Preneel from KULeuven University to work on a project called Timesec.

„The idea was to introduce standards at the level of the ISO [International Organization for Standardization] and the IETF [Internet Engineering Task Force] on secure digital time to get a more secure tool like NTP [Network Time Protocol],“ Quisquater said.

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