by Hayden Russell
On October 31, 2008, a man under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto published a paper titled Bitcoin: a Peer-Peer Electronic Cash System. This paper described an electronic system void of centralized servers allowing currency without the need for intermediaries for payments. This radical system would not require a central bank controlling inflation. It would have a set in stone and automatic inflation which over time slowly comes to a halt. It’s incredibly small minimum division makes it easy to buy things with, but it also can be a good store of value. Since then Bitcoin has become a household name and in December of 2017 made an all-time high of $19,247 per coin (coinmarketcap.com). In December it also had a market cap (total value of coins in circulation) of $322 billion (coinmarketcap.com). The creator of Bitcoin remains to this day anonymous. Many people think it is important to uncover the identity of the creator due to an estimated $9.8 billion worth of bitcoins in his possession which if rapidly sold could crash the market (Bitcoin’s; Time).
Bitcoin – Technical Explanation
Bitcoin represents nothing physical. It is simply data. (Bitcoin: A Peer-Peer… ) It has value just like the dollar, euro, or gold. Value is assigned to it by people who are willing to pay for it. If someone is willing to pay $10 for it than it is worth $10. If someone is willing to pay $10,000 than it is worth $10,000. (Why do Bitcoins…) In Nakamoto’s words,
“We define an electronic coin as a chain of digital signatures. Each owner transfers the coin to the next by digitally signing a hash of the previous transaction and the public key of the next owner and adding these to the end of the coin. A payee can verify the signatures to verify the chain of Ownership.” (Bitcoin: A Peer-Peer…)
This is referring to asymmetrical cryptography which is cryptography that uses two keys. A cryptographic key works on the principle that it is relatively easy to multiply two randomly generated numbers, but it requires brute trial and error to find the factors of a number. This is difficult to see when thinking about the scope of small numbers, but when dealing with incredibly large numbers this becomes a significant difference in time. These incredibly large numbers are used as keys. (The Mathematics of the RSA…) Bitcoin uses asymmetric encryption which means it uses a public key and a private key. Imagine that someone had a mailbox that had a door which you could only put mail in and a door which you could only take mail out. Both doors are locked. He gives all his friends a copy of his public key. This allows them to put mail in the box, but he keeps the private key to himself so that only he can take mail out of the box. (Bitcoin: A Peer-Peer…)
On the Bitcoin network, an individual would use a private key to sign a bitcoin transaction. Bitcoin “miners” verify that the transaction’s private keys are correct. Every ten minutes a math problem is generated by the Bitcoin network and sent to the miners. This is known as “proof of work”. It is used to prevent hacking or centralization by ensuring that any possible attacker would have to spend a potentially infinite amount of money so that they could continually win the Proof of Work allowing them the right to verify transactions. These miners use very specialized and powerful computers to solve these problems. The first to solve the problem is allowed to verify the transactions for that ten-minute segment of time which is called a block. Once the “block” is completely verified it is added to the “blockchain” which is a public ledger of all transactions. So a Bitcoin is simply a verified transaction on a public ledger. This method of how Bitcoin works is important because it allows for a completely decentralized network. This means that no one controls it. No one can shut-it-down. No one can hack it. It is truly a revolutionary technology! (Bitcoin: A Peer-Peer…)
Satoshi claims to be born in Japan and be 43 years old at the time of writing. (Satoshi Nakamoto P2P…) This makes his birthday April 5th, 1975. (Internet Archive of Satoshi P2P…) This is most likely a symbolic birthday because April 5th is the day that President Roosevelt signed the executive order confiscating gold. (Governments Still Heavy-Handed 80 Years…) The birth year of 1975 also has significance with gold. December 31, 1974, was the day that gold was made legal, but January 1, 1975, was the first day in which gold was legal. (When Owning Gold Was Illegal…) Satoshi is most likely a cryptographer which signals that it will be very hard to uncover his identity. He probably has a temper and has the stereotypical nerd attitude. This is reflected in this statement to a man requesting Peer-Banks, “If you don’t believe it or don’t get it, I don’t have the time to try to convince you, sorry.” He is believed to possibly be British due to a British phrase used here, “Sorry to be a wet blanket. Writing a description for this thing for general audiences is bloody hard. There’s nothing to relate it to.” He also may have libertarian values such as a distrust in central banks and government since Bitcoin is a solution to these things.
Hal Finney: Legendary Cryptographer
The first suspect for being Satoshi is a man by the name of Hal Finney. Hal worked for the PGP Corporation developing PGP encryption which has become an extremely widely used form of encryption and identity verification method. Hal Finney reportedly received the first Bitcoin transaction between people on Jan 12, 2009, which was only a few weeks after it’s creation. (Washington Post: Hall Finney Received…) Hal Finney seems to have the least evidence supporting that he is Nakamoto, but he certainly has ties with Nakamoto. In an interview with Forbes magazine, he denied that he was Nakamoto and seemed amused at the question. (Nakamoto’s Neighbor…) Hal certainly has the intelligence and cryptographic experience to develop something like this, but perhaps the most important piece of evidence is his ALS. Hal had ALS and died on August 28, 2014. (Hal Finney, Cryptographer dies…)
Satoshi Nakamoto’s last known contact was in 2011 which he said, “I’ve moved on to other things. It’s in good hands with Gavin [Andresen] and everyone.” (Former Bitcoin Developer Shares Early…) It is possible that Hal, if he is Satoshi, handed over the reigns of Bitcoin because he knew that he did not have much time left. Hal Finney will become more relevant later in this paper.
Nick Szabo: “Bit Gold” Creator
Nick Szabo was a lawyer and prominent member of the cypherpunk mailing list which was a discussion board for computer and cryptography idealists in the 1990s. (Re; on anonymity, identity … ) Cypherpunks believed that cryptography and the internet could bring a new level of privacy which in turn would bring liberty and freedom which the world has never seen. In the cypherpunk manifesto, they stated, “Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy. A private matter is something one doesn’t want the whole world to know, but a secret matter is something one doesn’t want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.” It also stated that the cypherpunk goal was, “ … building anonymous systems. We are defending our privacy with cryptography, with anonymous mail forwarding systems, with digital signatures, and with electronic money. ” This manifesto was written in 1993 in which “electronic money” was a science fiction. (A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto by Eric Hughes) Nick Szabo, a member of this group, would obviously have a goal of creating electronic money and in fact, he theorized about it publicly. In his blog “Unenumerated” he talked about his idea which he called “Bit Gold.” His idea of Bit Gold was incredibly similar to how Bitcoin operates today. It encompassed a “Proof of Work System”, a public ledger, and a system of nodes which keep the ledger decentralized and secure. It was published before the Bitcoin paper. (Bit Gold on Unremunerated) It is clear that Bitcoin is heavily based on this idea. It is possible that once he realized how this idea could affect the world so radically he wanted to use a pseudonym. He was interested in the use of pseudonyms in the 90s when he posted on the cypherpunk mailing list about it. (Re: on anonymity, identity, reputation, and spoofing) This information likely caused blogger “LikeInAMirror” to perform a stylometric comparison of Satoshi Nakamoto’s writing and Nick Szabo’s writing. A stylometric analysis according to Webster’s dictionary is, “the study of the chronology and development of an author’s work based especially on the recurrence of particular turns of expression or trends of thought.” He came to the conclusion that Nick Szabo writes incredibly similar to Nakamoto. They both repeatedly used words such as “of course”, “can be characterized”, “for our purposes”, ”it should be noted”, and “preclude.” These are all relatively uncommon phrases in papers on similar topics. They also, of course, share many technical terms, however, this is not as strong of evidence because Bitcoin is heavily based on Nick Szabo’s work. (Satoshi Nakamoto is (probably) Nick Szabo) This must be taken with a grain of salt however because this analysis has not been properly verified. Szabo does deny that he was the legendary founder, “ … I’m afraid you got it wrong doxing me as Satoshi, but I’m used to it.”, but of course, Satoshi doesn’t want his identity revealed so this is not necessarily important information. (Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?…)
On March 6, 2014, Newsweek released an article claiming to have discovered the identity of Satoshi. They claimed that it was Dorian Nakamoto a 64-year-old Japanese-American man who had a birth name of Satoshi. He was identified as a graduate of California State Polytechnic University with a Degree in Physics. He is also said to be a fanatical model train collector. Reporters knocked on his door and he did not answer. He called the police and was acting very strange. One police officer told Newsweek reporters that Nakamoto believed that “ … if he talks to you he’s going to get into trouble.” Nakamoto finally came outside of his house and said, “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.” (The Face Behind Bitcoin) This seemed as if he was acknowledging that he was the creator of Bitcoin and referring to the turnover of the reigns to Gavin Andresen mentioned above. This caused a media frenzy and gives us somewhat of an idea why Satoshi does not want to be found. Dorian Nakamoto, according to his brother, is a very smart person. He said, “Mathematics, engineering, computers – you name it, he can do it.” His daughter said that he encouraged her to, “not be under the government’s thumb.” (Bitcoin: US magazine…) Dorian later responded to the allegations on Reddit. He stated that he was not in any way involved in the creation of Bitcoin. He also said that he misunderstood the reporters’ questions for questions about his work for Citibank. He did understand the concept of Bitcoin very well and even had a short Bitcoin policy discussion with one Redditor. (Hi r/bitcoin I am Dorian…) Dorian Nakamoto lived in Temple City, California which was the same city in which Hal Finney lived in for decades. As a Forbes journalist stated, Just hours after Newsweek’s story hit the Web, I received an email from an old cryptography community acquaintance of Finney’s who has asked to remain anonymous. The email was titled “What are the odds?” It pointed out that Hal Finney had lived for almost a decade in Temple City, the same 36,000 person town where Newsweek found Dorian Nakamoto. Finney’s address was only a few blocks away from the Nakamoto’s family home. (Nakamoto’s Neighbor)
It is possible that Bitcoin was a joint venture between Hal and Dorian, but there is no record that these two even knew each other.
Craig Steven Wright
In 2016 Wired and Gizmodo magazines published articles explaining why they believe that a man by the name of Craig S. Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto. They described him as being somewhat of a mad genius. He, at one time, received graduate degrees at the rate of one per year. He is a climate change denyer, a theologian, a lawyer, statistician, and seems to be very eccentric. The evidence pointing toward him being Satoshi is massive! According to Gizmodo and Wired, he posted on the cryptography mailing list months before Satoshi’s white paper was posted which talked about cryptocurrency. He, at one point, was asking people to contact him with a PGP key linked to [email protected] which is very similar to the [email protected] email which Satoshi used. The key was apparently uploaded before the release of the Bitcoin paper. He posted on his blog that he was planning on releasing a paper about cryptocurrencies. He also posted about the release of bitcoin being “tomorrow” a day after Bitcoin went live, but when you factor in time zone changes it is possible that it was published the day before Bitcoin’s network came online. This post was replaced with the very strange phrase, “Bitcoin – AKA bloody nosey you be…It does always surprise me how at times the best place to hide right in the open.” There are allegedly leaked messages from him to his lawyer talking about “p2p distributed ledger(s).” A different leaked email between Craig and his friend Dave Kleimann talked about buying lots of computers to “get (Craig’s) idea going.” A .pdf file was also released which detailed a trust fund of 1.1 million Bitcoins. This would, at the time of writing this paper, be worth approximately 9.1 billion dollars! (coinmarketcap.com) This was named the “Tulip Trust” which is most likely a reference to the commonly used comparison of Bitcoin to the Tulip Mania of the 17th century. (Bitcoin vs history’s biggest bubbles…) This trust has four PGP signatures one of which is registered to Satoshi on the MIT keyserver with a date before the publishment of the Bitcoin paper. (Here’s all the Evidence…; Bitcoin’s Creator Satoshi Nakamoto is Probably…)
Many of this “evidence” can be easily disproved according to information from a Motherboard article titled Satoshi’s PGP Keys Are Probably Backdated and Point to a Hoax. The first are the PGP keys used many times which seem to be linked to Satoshi. PGP keys can be generated using many different algorithms. The keys leaked to Wired and Gizmodo are listed as being created and posted to the MIT keyserver in 2008. This seems to be evidence that they were created by Satoshi because no one knew the name of Satoshi Nakamoto before October of 2008 when he released his paper. It is extremely easy to fake the creation and upload date of PGP keys. All one must do is change the date on the machine which is used to create the keys. A Satoshi key which can be pretty conclusively drawn back to him was generated using the DSA-1024 algorithm which was very common in 2008 when the key was created. The leaked keys were created using RSA-3072 encryption which although there is no definitive evidence that it did not exist in 2008 it is mostly accepted that that would not only be a very uncommon PGP algorithm but an unheard of algorithm at the time. The Tulip Trust also doesn’t hold very much water because of the same unverified and suspicious keys used. The blog posts could possibly have been altered or changed because he was the owner of the server, but it is hard to definitively prove this because the type of server software he was using is unknown. Craig Wright later in an interview with the BBC claimed he was the creator. He said, “I was the main part of it, but other people helped me[…]” (Australian Craig Wright Claims…) Gavin Andresen who is a very well respected Bitcoin figure said,
“He signed in my presence using the private key from block 1. Block number 1 (which is) the very first mined Bitcoin block on a computer that I’m convinced to not (have) been tampered with. … With a message of my choosing and so that kind of sealed the deal for me convincing me that he does have that private key. My interactions with him feel like this is the inventor of Bitcoin. (Gavin vs Vitalik… 00:00:23)
Vitalik Buterin who is the creator of Ethereum which is another cryptocurrency and blockchain distributed application platform is probably the most outspoken denier of Craig Wright. He said,
“I will explain why I’m convinced … why I think he’s probably not Satoshi. First of all (it’s) very very simple signaling theory. He had the opportunity to take two different paths of proving … that he’s him. One path would have been to make … a signature … from the first Bitcoin block. Put the signature out in public (and) make a very simple 10 line blog post that anyone … including … cryptographers like Dan Boneh and Ben Kaminsky and so forth can verify that it’s him. … instead he has written this big long blog post that even Dan Kaminsky said it’s too confusing and try to only show the signature to a few select people and we’re supposed to trust them. … Signaling theory says that if you have a good way of proving something and a noisy way of proving something and you choose the noisy way then that means … that you couldn’t do the good way in the first place.” (Gavin vs Vitalik… 00:01:10)
There are several possible candidates for the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, but not very much conclusive evidence. Though we may never know who the famous creator is, we can most likely count on the Bitcoin community to continue looking for evidence.