Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

Mysterious, controversial, enigmatic—Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonym used by the unknown creator (or creators) of Bitcoin. Generally assumed to have hailed from Japan, Nakamoto is the author of the Bitcoin white paper and the creator of the Bitcoin network. Speculation on the true identity of Nakamoto ranges widely, and conspiracy theories have gained traction that Nakamoto was killed by his competitors after he disappeared from the public eye in 2011.

If alive, Nakamoto is one of the richest people in the world. He is estimated to own around 1.1 million Bitcoin, approximately 5 percent of the total supply. This amount of Bitcoin would have been worth approximately $20 billion when the price of the world’s most popular cryptocurrency reached nearly $20,000 in December 2017.

Origins and Creation of Bitcoin

Nakamoto first described his vision for the Bitcoin digital currency in a paper titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” published in the metzdowd.com mailing list in October 2008. Here he outlines his vision for “A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash [that] would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.”

Early on in the white paper, Satoshi explains the problem with traditional online payments:

“Commerce on the Internet has come to rely almost exclusively on financial institutions serving as trusted third parties to process electronic payments. While the system works well enough for most transactions, it still suffers from the inherent weaknesses of the trust based model…What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party. Transactions that are computationally impractical to reverse would protect sellers from fraud, and routine escrow mechanisms could easily be implemented to protect buyers.”

Nakamoto launched the first iteration of the Bitcoin network in January 2009 and was the sole miner on the network for the first 10 days following its inception. When Bitcoin’s price reached record highs in December 2017, Nakamoto’s Bitcoin holdings would have made him the 44th richest person in the world at that time.

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Early Investigations into Satoshi Nakamoto’s Identity

While he was active in the public space, Nakamoto refrained from ever providing any personal information about himself. According to the few who had lengthy online exchanges with Nakamoto, he was sometimes described as “weird, paranoid, and bossy.”

Laszlo Haynecs, a developer who worked with Nakamoto on Bitcoin, told Business Insider that his interactions on the whole with Nakamoto were “mostly weird.” He said the mysterious genius could be totalitarian at times.

“He or she or whoever it was never told me anything personal,” Hanyecz said. “I asked a few questions, but he always dodged them. Those questions never got answered…There were a few times when I got messages that seemed off-base. I brushed them off because I was like, who cares if this guy tells me to go pound sand and go away? This wasn’t my job or anything — it was a hobby. I was trying to be friends with him. He seemed very paranoid about people breaking the software. He kept calling it ‘prerelease,’ and I was helping him get it to release.1.”

The only public information that can be found on Nakamoto’s identity is a P2P Foundation profile, wherein he claims to be a now-42-year-old male from Japan. However, given his preference for English and the absence of documentation written in Japanese, many have begun to question the legitimacy of his east-Asian origins.

An analysis of Nakamoto’s more than 500 Bitcoin forum posts by Swiss coder Stefan Thomas reveals that Nakamoto virtually never posted between the hours of 2:00-8:00 pm Japanese time. It’s presumed Nakamoto must have been sleeping during these hours, suggesting he either kept a bizarre schedule or, more likely, he wasn’t living in Japan.

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List of Leading Satoshi Nakamoto Candidates

Major media outlets across the world ranging from CNN to Forbes have speculated on Nakamoto’s true identity. Possible candidates have included early Bitcoin adopter Hal Finney, computer scientist and cryptographer Nick Szabo, Japanese-American physicist Dorian Prentice Nakamoto (birth name Satoshi Nakamoto), and Australian academic Craig Wright.

Hal Finney

Hal Finney has historically been considered the most likely candidate to be the true Satoshi Nakamoto. Finney is a pre-Bitcoin cryptographic pioneer, known as the first person other than Nakamoto to have used the software. Perhaps not coincidentally, Finney used to live a few blocks away from Dorian Nakamoto—another Satoshi candidate. A handwriting comparison conducted by Juola & Associates also revealed that Finney’s handwriting bears the closest resemblance to Satoshi out of all possible candidates. However, further investigation conducted by Forbes journalist Andy Greenberg suggests that Finney’s personal testimony, along with early email exchanges and Bitcoin transactions between Finney and Nakamoto, suggests that the two individuals are not the same people.

Nick Szabo

Another early adopter of Bitcoin, Nick Szabo is a decentralized currency enthusiast and author of a published paper called “bit gold”, which outlines a pre-Bitcoin description of a decentralized electronic currency. Additionally, Szabo has shown an interest in pseudonyms dating back to the 1990s. Stylometric analysis by researcher Skye Grey also links Szabo to the Bitcoin whitepaper.

Research conducted by Dominic Frisby provides substantial circumstantial evidence linking Szabo to Nakamoto. Frisby told RT‘s “The Keiser Report”, “I’ve concluded there is only one person in the whole world that has the sheer breadth but also the specificity of knowledge and it is this chap.”

When questioned by Frisby, Szabo denied that he is Satoshi. Despite this, no hard evidence has surfaced that would discount Szabo from the short list of possible Satoshi candidates.

Dorian Nakamoto

Dorian Nakamoto became a Satoshi candidate after being profiled by Newsweek in March 2014. Nakamoto trained as physicist at Cal Poly University before working as a systems engineer on classified defense projects and as a computer engineer for technology and financial information services companies. Nakamoto is said to have strong libertarian leanings, and according to Newsweek, Nakamoto appeared to have confirmed his identity as the Bitcoin creator stating, “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it. It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”

Following a media flurry in the wake of the Newsweek article, Nakamoto subsequently denied any connection to Bitcoin. Nakamoto stated in a Reddit “ask-me-anything” that at the time of the Newsweek interview, he had never heard of Bitcoin, and the article’s quote was referring to his work at Citibank. A day after the Reddit AMA, Satoshi’s P2P Foundation account broke a five-year silence, stating, “I am not Dorian Nakamoto.” An article by Vice later suggested that Satoshi’s P2P Foundation account had likely been hacked.

Craig Wright

Perhaps the most controversial Satoshi candidate, Craig Wright was thrust into the public spotlight when parallel investigations by Wired and Gizmodo alleged that Wright may be the inventor of Bitcoin. Both publications cited an anonymous source document, which suggested Wright was the most likely candidate to be Satoshi. Neither story produced any solid evidence that Wright was the actual Satoshi, and many major news outlets, such as the New Yorker, dubbed any proposed evidence linking to Wright as convoluted and circumstantial at best.

To Wired‘s credit, they did state in the first article that, “Either Wright invented bitcoin, or he’s a brilliant hoaxer who very badly wants us to believe he did.” Wired soon published a second article listing numerous inconsistencies in the ‘Craig Wright is Satoshi’ theory. Furthermore, if Wright were in fact Satoshi, he could easily provide concrete evidence by producing Satoshi’s private key-encrypted signature linking back to the Bitcoin genesis block, or by showing that he has control over the PGP signature used by Satoshi’s encrypted email and early writings. However, Wright has done neither of these things.

Is Satoshi more than one person?

Finally, it’s possible that Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity isn’t a singular person, but rather a collection of people. Following the Craig Wright publication, an email sent from a known Satoshi Nakamoto address to the Bitcoin development mailing list read, “I am not Craig Wright. We are all Satoshi.” Given that this email lacked the PGP signature linked to Satoshi’s private keys, it was quickly dismissed as coming from a non-credible source. However, given how murky the water quickly becomes when diving into the identity of Satoshi, the possibility that there might be a team behind the creation of Bitcoin remains conceivable.

Satoshi Nakamoto went completely dark in 2011, and his massive Bitcoin holdings have remained unmoved since that time. After nearly a decade of silence, the true identity of the mysterious creator or creators of Bitcoin may be unknown forever.

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