How a 27-Year-Old Codebreaker Busted the Myth of Bitcoin’s Anonymity

Sarah Meiklejohn was captivated by the enigma of cryptography during her college years at Brown University, a field that meshed perfectly with her love for puzzles. Her journey into the world of secret codes and encryption led her to appreciate the critical role of privacy in communications, aligning her with cryptographers who advocate for robust, unbreakable encryption to protect sensitive exchanges.

Under the mentorship of Anna Lysyanskaya, a renowned computer scientist, Meiklejohn honed her cryptographic skills. Lysyanskaya, a former student of encryption pioneer Ron Rivest, was exploring eCash, a pre-Bitcoin digital currency concept rooted in the principles of anonymity. Meiklejohn’s graduate research aimed to refine eCash, making it more scalable despite its vulnerability to fraud—a challenge Bitcoin later addressed.

Bitcoin entered Meiklejohn’s radar in 2011, but it wasn’t until a year later that she seriously considered its potential. Prompted by colleague Kirill Levchenko, she delved into Bitcoin’s proof-of-work mechanism, recognizing its capacity to secure a decentralized currency without a central authority. This system, requiring miners to solve complex computational puzzles, ensured that altering the blockchain would demand more power than the collective effort of all miners, thus safeguarding the integrity of transactions.
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