One of the most enduring mysteries of bitcoin is that of its founder, Satoshi Nakamoto. Little is known about him. He essentially disappeared after releasing the bitcoin whitepaper.
Nakamoto’s importance to the bitcoin ecosystem goes beyond being a founder. He is a philosophical godhead of sorts and is frequently invoked in discussions relating to the future development of bitcoin. For example, each party in the bitcoin/bitcoin cash fork last year claimed to carry on Nakamoto’s original vision. The bitcoin founder also holds a large stash of his cryptocurrency worth $5.8 billion, according to a Time magazine article last year. Given that there will only be 21 million bitcoin in the future, Nakamoto’s holdings have the potential to significantly affect its price, if and when they are traded.
While there have been numerous efforts over the years, the search for Nakamoto has proved elusive. Several individuals have been “uncovered” or names proposed but none has been proven to be Nakamoto beyond doubt.
Here are three people who were supposed to be Satoshi Nakamoto.
This was, perhaps, the most high-profile revelation of bitcoin’s founder. Dorian Nakamoto was “uncovered” as Satoshi Nakamoto by Newsweek in a March 2014 article. Publication of the article caused a mini-hullabaloo in the crypto and wider tech community as this was the first time that a mainstream publication had attempted to find out the identity of bitcoin’s creator.
Newsweek claimed several similarities between Satoshi and Nakamoto. For example, both were supposed to have libertarian leanings and a Japanese connection. (Dorian, who graduated in physics from California Polytechnic and worked on classified defense projects, is Japanese-American). The article’s author also claimed that Nakamoto told her that he was “no longer” involved with bitcoin and that he had “turned it over” to other people.
Nakamoto later denied the quote and claimed that he had misunderstood the question. He thought the Newsweek journalist was asking him about his previous work with Citibank.
The magazine’s biggest mistake was to publish a photograph of Nakamoto’s home. As several security experts pointed out, a cursory image search on the Internet easily revealed its exact location. While they did not believe that Dorian Nakamoto was bitcoin’s founder, the crypto community was aghast that the magazine had disclosed his details.
Still, the media circus was not without profit for Dorian Nakamoto. A fund set up for him raised 67 bitcoins. The fund was the bitcoin community’s way of saying “thanks”. He cashed the bitcoin last year and, according to one estimate, netted $273,000.
For the most part, individuals suspected of being Satoshi Nakamoto have denied the claim or remained silent. That has not been the case with Craig Wright, an Australian scientist. (See also: Has The Bitcoin Creator Been Found?)
Wright was introduced to the world at a Bitcoin Investor’s Conference in Las Vegas in 2015. When asked about his credentials, Wright claimed that he was “a bit of everything” and listed his degrees, including a Master’s in statistics and two doctorates. He also said that he had been involved with bitcoin for a long time but he “kept [his] head down”. Subsequently, Wired magazine wrote a story featuring Wright, claiming “strongest evidence yet of Satoshi Nakamoto’s true identity.”
That evidence consisted of similarities in timestamps on Nakamoto’s blog entries and Wright’s blog, leaked emails and correspondence with Wright’s lawyer which referenced a “P2P distributed ledger”. Wright is also supposed to have provided direct proof of his involvement in one of the emails. “I did my best to try and hide the fact that I’ve been running bitcoin since 2009. By the end of this (a tax dispute with the Australian government), I think half the world is going to bloody know,” he wrote. (See also: Craig Wright).
On the face of it, the proof seemed solid. But later articles doubted its veracity. For example, one of the articles questioned the validity of timestamps on Wright’s blog. Another doubted his credentials. Slowly, but surely, evidence and facts emerged that unraveled the case for Wright’s claim to being Nakamoto. Even Ethereum cofounder Vitalik Buterin, who is otherwise reticent about politics in the cryptocurrency world, came out against Wright as Satoshi.
But Wright remains unfazed by the criticism and has parlayed the media attention to carve out a prominent role within the crypto community. He is currently leading the charge to split Bitcoin Cash, a fork of bitcoin. He is also chief scientist at nChain, a startup that is building a competitor to the original bitcoin.
Nick Szabo is a computer engineer and legal scholar. He invented smart contracts and Bit Gold, a precursor to bitcoin. (See also: Bit Gold). In a post describing BitGold, he wrote about “a protocol whereby unforgeable costly bits could be created online with minimal dependence on trusted 3rd parties.” This is similar to the bitcoin concept where a series of bits created by a network of computers without a leader verify and validate transactions. Several blogs and a book author have suggested that Szabo’s breadth of knowledge and technical chops make him a suitable candidate for being Satoshi Nakamoto. For example, British author compared Szabo’s writing style with those for Nakamoto and found similarities. The timezones in which the posts were written also match as do references to economist Carl Menger’s work. “What for me is a humdinger: Szabo actually worked for Chaum’s Digicash in the 1990s. I even found his old Digicash email address,” writes Frisby.