One of today's greatest mysteries: Who is the real "Satoshi Nakamoto," the pseudonym for Bitcoin's creator? The conspiratorial rabbit hole resembles a Dan Brown novel or a mind-bending Netflix docuseries.
While cryptocurrency has only been in operation for the past 11 years, the ideals behind the digital peer-to-peer money system have been around for decades.
In 1982, computer scientist David Chaum was the first known person to discuss the concepts of cryptocurrency. But it wasn't until Halloween day 2008 that Satoshi Nakamoto would publish the original Bitcoin blueprint (known as the whitepaper), which laid out the blueprint for a peer to peer electronic cash system.
Three months later, Nakamoto officially launched the first cryptocurrency when he mined "block 0," which created the first blockchain. Nakamoto continued to work on the development of Bitcoin until 2011 when he stepped away from the project and seemingly vanished from existence.
Everything We Know About Nakamoto
Satoshi Nakamoto only ever appeared in the digital world and gave very little information about himself. After reviewing many documents, emails, and blog posts, here is what we can speculate about the true identity of the father of cryptocurrency.
- Nakamoto's self-created profile on the official peer-to-peer foundations website lists him as a 45-year-old male from Japan.
- He is likely a libertarian and pro-capitalism. The entire cryptocurrency concept is built on the idea of taking power away from banks and governments. When Satoshi mined the first cryptocurrency block, he encoded a backward hidden message. It read, "The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks," which was the cover story that same day for The New York Times. It is likely he inserted this message not only as a timestamp for the creation of Bitcoin but also to show the significance of its creation during a time when central banks and governments were under fire regarding the 2008 bank crisis.
- Although his name and given address would lead people to believe he is of Japanese descent, many believe this information is a decoy. Nakamoto often used British idioms in his email conversations back and forth with other cryptologists. Additionally, the time stamps for his work coincided better with that of UK or American time zones.
- Nakamoto is estimated to hold around 1 million bitcoins, valued currently around $11 billion—all of which to this day remain untouched.
Why Did He Leave?
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One theory holds that Nakamoto's departure was meticulously orchestrated. Many of the people who worked with Satoshi during his work on Bitcoin described him as precise and methodical, and they believe Nakamoto's departure was planned from the beginning. Some look to the biblical references within Satoshi's own work for proof of this theory.
As Genesis 2:2 recounts: "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made, and he rested." People connect the six-day creation myth to the timeframe in which Satoshi waited to mine the second block. Additionally, Nakamoto worked on Bitcoin for roughly 3 years, which matches the time frame of Christ's ministry on Earth.
Perhaps he was afraid of something. Why would someone want to remain anonymous? More than likely, Nakamoto's fear was of the government trying to interfere with Bitcoin. After all, his creation posed a threat to the government and banks, who currently control the world's money.
While Nakamoto was still involved with Bitcoin, controversy erupted as WikiLeaks considered turning to Bitcoin after they were banned from using other payment methods. In regards to WikiLeaks, Nakamoto posted the following: "The project needs to grow gradually so the software can be strengthened along the way. I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage."
Nakamoto's last known correspondence also gives clues to why he may have left out of fear. In an email conversation back and forth with fellow Bitcoin developer Gavin Andresen, Gavin tells Nakamoto that he was invited to speak at an event hosted by the CIA. Nakamoto never responded. Some believe the CIA may be linked to his disappearance.
Will the Real Satoshi Nakamoto Please Stand Up?
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There have been many theories about Nakamoto's true identity. According to conspiracy theorists, Nakamoto could be a rogue AI (Matrix lovers, anyone?), or an alien, or a time traveler from the future. Some have even connected him to Steve Jobs and crime boss Paul Le Roux.
Insane conspiracies aside, there have been a handful of alleged "Satoshi Nakamotos" over the past decade—here are the most notable ones.
Dorian Nakamoto's face was heavily meme'd after he was falsely outed at Satoshi Nakamoto.
The first and arguably most widely recognized Nakamoto candidate was outed in 2014 by Newsweek. Dorian Nakamoto, a California-based computer engineer with work history full of classified projects involved with the military, was named as one possibility. Mr. Nakamoto was actually born "Satoshi Nakamoto," but he changed it to Dorian Nakamoto in 1973. When first approached by the reporter about his involvement in the creation of Bitcoin, Mr. Nakamoto replied, "I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it."
Just four days after the public outing of Mr. Nakamoto, Forbes released their own report rebutting the theory that Mr. Nakamoto is the real Satoshi. Forbes hired Juola & Associates to compare writings by Dorian Nakomoto and other possible candidates to the original 2008 Satoshi whitepaper. The firm, who famously deciphered that J.K Rowling was the ghostwriter of the award-winning 2013 crime novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, concluded with no doubt that Dorian Nakamoto was neither the writer nor editor of the whitepaper.
Mr. Nakamoto soon released a public statement denying having any involvement in Bitcoin or its creation. He expressed confusion about the reporter's original questions regarding his involvement with Bitcoin, as he believed she was asking about previous confidential work projects he was no longer involved in. He also claimed he'd never even heard of Bitcoin before this.
The legendary Dorian Nakamoto promised to give me all his Bitcoin when he dies as long as I don’t out him as Satosh… https://t.co/eBxlmD8dAl— Pomp 🌪 (@Pomp 🌪) 1561478303.0
Years after being identified as Satoshi, Dorian has seemingly embraced the crypto community and has accepted the fame that's connected him to the digital currency world. He can often now be found attending Bitcoin events and eagerly discussing his fame with others. But as appealing as the coincidences pointing to the Dorian theory may be, he likely is not the Satoshi that created Bitcoin.
The late Hal Finney was involved with Bitcoin from day one. In fact, Finney received the first ever Bitcoin transaction when Nakamoto transferred 50 BTC to him for testing purposes. His proven involvement with the crypto world is enough to make Hal a possibility, but just a week after Newsweek's article about Dorian Nakamotoa a discovery made by journalist Andy Greenberg added a new layer of suspicion about Finney.
Running bitcoin— halfin (@halfin) 1231644832.0
According to Greenberg, who was already working on the Bitcoin creation story and investigating Hal Finney, within an hour of Newsweek'spublication, he received an anonymous email from someone who pointed out that Dorian Nakamoto and Finney reside in the same city, Temple City, CA. In fact, they only lived three blocks away from each other. However, both Dorian and Hal denied knowing one another.
Finney was diagnosed with ALS in 2009, and by early 2011 he had to retire from PGP Corporation (around the same time as Nakamoto's disappearance) due to his debilitating state. By the time Greenberg contacted him, Finney could only communicate through voice synthesis software run on a computer attached to his wheelchair. He unwaveringly denied being Satoshi but was always courteous and willing to help in the investigation.
Greenberg was invited to Finney's house on many occasions. On one trip, Hal's son Jason stated, "My father is an honest guy. He would have loved to have been part of creating Bitcoin, and he wouldn't have hidden it. But he wasn't involved."
Later, when Juola & Associates came out with their linguistic reports matching possible Nakamoto candidates, Hal's results showed the closest match to the Satoshi whitepaper.
Adding all the pieces together, there is a strong case for Hal Finney being the real Nakamoto. However, Hal Finney passed away in August of 2014, and any further proof or evidence likely died with him.
Very little is known about computer scientist and cryptographer Nick Szabo or his relationship with Satoshi Nakamoto—and to some, this is just one of the clues indicating that Szabo is the real Satoshi.
In 2005, Szabo wrote about an idea for a cryptocurrency called "Bit Gold" on his blog, in which he outlined ideas for a peer-to-peer digital money system and had similarities to the whitepaper. However, it was discovered that at some point the blog post's original posting date was edited to appear as if it had been posted in 2008–the year Bitcoin launched. The timestamps for any comments left were also removed.
It's confirmed that the real Nakamoto was made aware of Nick Szabo and Bit Gold before he released the whitepaper. Though, while Nakamoto made reference to other pre-dated digital currencies in the whitepaper, he made no mention of Bit Gold, specifically.
Also interesting is the fact that all the cryptographers who worked on Bitcoin with Satoshi have publicly released email conversations with him–except for Szabo.
Believers in Szabo-as-Nakamoto also point to two incidents in which Szabo might have let slip his true identity. First, in an email between Nakamoto and Hal Finney, Nakamoto pointed out the irony that the address code for his first mined block began with his initials, NS. Was this truly a reveal that Nakamoto might be Nick Szabos (NS)? Or was he just referring to his initials read in the traditional Japanese style, which lists the last name first?
The second incident was during a 2017 interview on the Tim Ferriss Show. Szabo stumbled on his words and began to say that he designed Bitcoin when he meant to say Bit Gold. Some argue that this could have been a Freudian slip.
Nick Szabo definitely has the credentials to back up those who believe he is Satoshi–but with such little evidence to go on, it's hard to make a decent assumption about the truth.
Craig Wright is an Australian computer security researcher and entrepreneur. He might also be the only candidate who has solid evidence pointing to him being the real Nakamoto–if you believe the evidence is credible.
Wright didn't appear to be a name in connection with Bitcoin or Nakamoto until 2015 when Wired exposed leaked information, revealing emails, documents, and deleted blog posts from Wright dealing with the creation of Bitcoin–all dated before its official launch.
Within a few days, Wired published another article rebutting their initial findings, stating Wright may be a fraud. While examining the leaked documents, it was discovered that some had been edited in 2013, leading most to assume it was a big hoax.
Adding to suspicion is the finding that Wright lied about having a PhD in computer science from Sydney's Charles Sturt University. In addition, a federal police raid on Wright's home and offices took place days after the Wright story came out. The Australian Federal Police later released a statement declaring the raid was on behalf of the Australian taxation office and was not connected to the recent publications by Wired.
But the most jarring evidence supporting Wright's claim was in April 2016, when he gave digitally signatures using cryptographic keys owned by Satoshi himself. Andrew O'Hagan, novelist and chief editor for the London Review of Books, writes about being present for one of the demonstrations that took place in his essay, "The Satoshi Affair."
O'Hagan, along with two other crypto community entrepreneurs and longtime Bitcoin developer Gavin Andersen, witnessed Wright use Satoshi's keys to sign messages from both Wright's personal laptop and an out-of-the-box brand new one, just to be sure of no foul play.
The demonstration was enough to convince both Andersen and fellow Bitcoin developer Jon Matonis to publicly state they believe Wright is truly Nakamoto. But many still have their doubts.
The blockchain Wright signed for was Block 9—one of the early blocks believed to be mined by Nakamoto himself. However, there is no definitive proof that it was Satoshi who mined block 9. Moreover, if Wright had signed for the original Block 0–which was confirmed to be owned by Nakamoto–then he would have laid better claims. When The Economist asked Wright to sign for Block 0, he refused, stating that the funds from it were tied up in a trust.
Wright's story seemed to die off a bit after 2016. Wright fully began to claim that he was Satoshi, stating so on his social platforms and personal site–but there was still no definitive proof to his claims. It wasn't until 2018 that Wright would be back in the headlines.
On Valentine's Day 2018, the estate of David Kleiman filed a class action lawsuit against Wright for over $5 billion worth of Bitcoin. The lawsuit states that Wright misappropriated billions through a partnership between the two men years ago. It is now believed that Kleiman may have been a partner of Wright's in creating Bitcoin. According to Wright's lawyers, Kleiman assisted in editing–but not creating–the original whitepaper for Bitcoin. Throughout 2019, Wright's legal team attempted to get the case dismissed, but with no luck.
The long awaited trial was set to start this past July, but due to COVID-19 restrictions it has been postponed until this coming October.
As it stands, much of Wright's dealings in the past years look heavily suspicious and seem to be pointing at an elaborate scandal and hoax.
The world may never have a definite answer to the question of who Satoshi Nakamoto is—and that seems to be the way Nakamoto wanted it. Nakamoto knew that in order for Bitcoin to succeed, it needed to stay decentralized and without any clear leader. But for hopefuls like me who have traveled down the cryptocurrency rabbit hole, answers may be revealed whether Satoshi wants them to be or not–possibly once and for all in the upcoming Wright trial.