Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto?
It was Friday, October 31st, 2008. At exactly 18:10 UTC, subscribers of the cypherpunk mailing list metzdowd.com received a peculiar email. “I’ve been working on a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party. The paper is available at:http://www.bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf, ” the message commenced.
Strange as it was, the email was met with immediate praise and recognition. It had been more than fifteen excruciating years of war since Eric Hughes published the Cypherpunk’s Manifesto. Finally, the day had come for cryptographers around the world to lay down their keyboards, pop bottles of champagne, and commemorate a Great Victory — a terminal blow to Big Brother’s head!
Unfortunately, that’s not at all what happened.
At first, there was nothing. Dead silence for two days and then suspicion around the concept of a hashcash-style proof-of-work-based electronic cash system intensified. The reply that finally broke the silence opened with:
“We very, very much need such a system, but the way I understand your proposal, it does not seem to scale to the required size[…]”
The rest of the pundits followed in the same fashion; everyone relished the idea, but nobody believed it could be done. Or at least not as Satoshi was envisioning.
Fast forward to January 3rd, 2009 — at exactly 18:15:05 GMT, the first “Genesis” block was mined, and Bitcoin was born. Twelve years and 669,000 blocks later, Bitcoin’s market capitalization is roughly $800 billion. Today, there’s hardly a living soul on the planet that hasn’t heard of it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto?
Herein lies one of Bitcoin’s principal contradictions. Bitcoin’s blockchain, along with all of its transactions and data, is transparent. The software protocol is open-source. The development is mainly decentralized and merit-based, and yet, nobody knows who Satoshi Nakamoto, the main protagonist behind this saga, is.
What little we do know about Satoshi is sourced from his archived emails and forum posts on bitcointalk.org. This information, however, is all Bitcoin talk — nothing indicative of Satoshi’s real identity. We don’t even know his real name. We assume Satoshi Nakamoto to be a pseudonym. After all, it would be truly bizarre for a person to go through such lengths to protect his real identity, only to use his actual name to sign his whitepaper and public communications.
What we do know for certain is that he was a brilliant and quirky coder. Gavin Andresen, the man who in 2010 received Satoshi’s blessing to take over as Bitcoin’s lead developer, vouched for this. And he wasn’t the only one. Everyone who had the privilege to work closely with Satoshi during Bitcoin’s early days was also under the impression that Satoshi was special.
It’s been more than a decade, and Bitcoin’s inventor still remains completely anonymous. Even those who worked and communicated with Satoshi directly did so only through email and never heard his voice or met in person.
In December 2010, when Satoshi passed the torch to Gavin before disappearing altogether, the hunt to reveal his real identity intensified. Since then, many, both outside and within the industry, have proposed various theories regarding the man’s real identity. Some have even stepped forth to claim they are the real Satoshi.
However, as far as any kind of conclusive evidence is concerned — we have none. At least not yet. All circulating theories boil down to nothing but suspicions and conspiracies. Similarly, those claiming to have invented Bitcoin have never managed to prove so conclusively despite how simple it should be for the real creator to do so.
So, the question remains — who is Satoshi Nakamoto? Has anyone ever come close to finding out?
The Usual Suspects
Craig Steven Wright
The list of potential Satoshi candidates is somewhat extensive, but Craig Steven Wright is a good person to start with. This controversial figure has consistently claimed to be the real Satoshi for the last six years. At one point, he even managed to fool Gavin Andresen.
Craig S. Wright first made headlines in 2015 when he declared himself the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin. Since then, he has gathered a significant following, consisting mainly of proselytes now following the Bitcoin Satoshi Vision (BSV) tribe. For the uninitiated, BSV is a fork of Bitcoin Cash, which is a fork of Bitcoin. Craig’s claims are widely rejected and often ridiculed by the broader crypto community, excluding his very niche and tight-knit BSV following.
While CSW’s supporters maintain that “CSW has every qualification to be Satoshi Nakamoto in terms of his education, work experience, and proximity to the project…,” Craig has thus far failed to provide any conclusive evidence in support of his claims, despite publicly promising to do so.
In May of 2016, CSW promised to move or spend bitcoins from some of the addresses widely believed to belong to Satoshi. He also published a later deleted blog post where he pledged to provide conclusive evidence that he created Bitcoin. However, when push came to shove, CSW apologized instead and rescinded his promise citing security issues.
Though Craig’s claims haven’t been definitively disproven yet, what has been proven is that he has faked blog posts, PGP keys, contracts, and emails. Furthermore, he botched the signing of Satoshi’s supposed public keys, has a well-documented history of fabricating Bitcoin and non-Bitcoin related documents, plagiarized and backdated the bitcoin whitepaper abstract, and is currently under a criminal investigation by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
Furthermore, Craig’s technical expertise has also been frequently called into question. Namely, there’s no direct evidence that he is even able to code, his math skills and understanding of basic cryptography are questionable at best, his nChain teammates were supposedly perplexed at his lack of technical skills, he plagiarized an entire paper on Bitcoin mining, and more.
Many believe that Hal Finney — the infamous cypherpunk cryptographer and early Bitcoin developer — is a likely suspect for Satoshi Nakamoto.
In the crypto world, Hal Finney has godlike status. He was one of the pillars of the cypherpunk movement of the early 90s. Along with Phil Zimmermann, Finney was instrumental in creating Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) — one of the first mainstream, open-source programs used to sign, encrypt, and decrypt electronic texts communications.
Building on existing proof of work (POW) concepts in 2004, Hal Finney created the first hashcash-based POW protocol named Reusable Proofs of Work (RPOW). While Finney’s vision for the RPOW protocol was to be used as token money, the system never saw any economically meaningful use. That is until Bitcoin came along with a hashcash-based POW system quite similar to the one invented by Finney.
And while these facts give off some uncanny Satoshi vibes, it’s nothing compared to what comes next.
Hal Finney was the first person to receive bitcoin (directly from Satoshi himself, assuming they’re not the same person) and the second to mine Bitcoin. Furthermore, he was one of the first supporters of Bitcoin when Satoshi floated the idea on the cryptography mailing list and one of the few to work and communicate with Satoshi directly during Bitcoin’s earliest days.
Coincidentally, Finney also happened to live a few blocks away from Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto — a Japanese American systems engineer who was also at one point suspect of being the inventor of Bitcoin.
The connections go on and on. Hal was a libertarian and a big fan of Ayn Rand. He’s also on record stating that he was familiar and inspired by David Chaum’s work, the man who developed the first-ever digital currency called DigiCash. He was an introvert, a genius at math and coding, and an altruist with a great sense of public duty. According to the linguistics analysis firm Juola & Associates, Finney was the best Satoshi candidate based on writing samples.
To cut to the chase, Hal Finney is everything anyone would imagine Satoshi Nakamoto to be. The only problem with this theory, however, is that Finney has always firmly denied being Satoshi. In 2014, former Forbes security staff writer Andy Greenberg met and spoke with the Finney family and claims to have been presented with substantial evidence contradicting this theory. For example, Hal’s son, Jason Finney, showed Andy his dad’s Gmail account and about fifteen emails dating back to January 2009 between Hal and Satoshi Nakamoto. Next, Jason allowed Andy to inspect Hal’s Bitcoin wallet’s transaction record, where it was clear that Finney had received Satoshi’s ten-bitcoin test transaction on January 11th, 2009.
Such evidence is tough to fake and, considering that Hal Finney wasn’t known to be a forger or a liar, the proof seems reasonable. The notion that Finney could’ve set up two different Gmail accounts to fake conversations with himself to throw people off the trail, long before Bitcoin was even a thing and no one believed in its success, is unlikely and somewhat ridiculous.
Nick Szabo is definitely within the top three Satoshi Nakamoto contenders, and for good reasons. Szabo is a polymath and a rightful legend in the crypto space. He’s a mathematician, computer engineer, and a legal scholar with ties to the digital currency space dating back to the ‘90s, way before Bitcoin was conceptualized.
In 1996, Szabo pioneered the concept of smart contracts that many years later became the central feature of Ethereum. In 2005, he published an entry on his well-renowned blog Unenumerated conceptualizing a digital currency similar to Bitcoin called Bit Gold. In it, he described his digital currency as “a protocol whereby unforgeable costly bits could be created online with minimal dependence on trusted third parties.” Four years later, Satoshi published the Bitcoin whitepaper, which never cited Szabo’s work but clearly drew its inspiration from it.
While Szabo is on record explicitly denying creating Bitcoin, many authors and researchers have pointed him out as the best and most likely candidate to be Satoshi. For one, like Hal Finney, Szabo was also an early cypherpunk and one of the few people in the space with a keen interest in creating a digital currency. Aside from his work on Bit Gold, the suspicions are further corroborated by the fact that he once worked for Chaum’s DigiCash company.
In 2011, Szabo had this to say about Bitcoin and its anonymous creator:
“Myself, Wei Dai, and Hal Finney were the only people I know of who liked the idea (or in Dai’s case his related idea) enough to pursue it to any significant extent until Nakamoto.”
In regard to competence, Nick Szabo unquestionably passes the bar. He had the theoretical underpinnings, the philosophical inclinations, and the advanced technical skills in C++ to create Bitcoin. Furthermore, a group of forensic linguistics experts from Aston University analyzed and compared Szabo’s and Satoshi’s writings and concluded that they very well may be the same person.
What really stands out about Szabo’s involvement in Bitcoin is that there is no known email correspondence between him and Satoshi, unlike Hal Finney or Wei Dai. What’s even more suspicious is that sometime after Bitcoin went live, Szabo went back and edited the date of his 2005 Bit Gold paper to December 27, 2008. While there’s permalink evidence that Szabo did this, he never went on record to explain why.
To this day, Nick Szabo still denies any involvement in creating Bitcoin. Regardless, he remains one of the most influential and well-respected people still active in the cryptocurrency space.
Besides Nick Szabo, Hal Finney, and Craig S. Wright, several other less-often mentioned names circulate in the space as possible suspects as well.
The most high-profile of these are the previously mentioned Japanese American systems engineer Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto and the British cryptographer, cypherpunk, and inventor of Hashcash Adam Back.
Dorian Nakamoto hit the headlines in 2014 when Newsweek reporter Leah McGrath Goodman identified the man as the infamous Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto. The article cited several circumstantial facts about Dorian. It pointed out that he was a system and computer engineer who worked on classified defense projects for technology and financial information services companies and that he was a libertarian. However, Newsweek’s most significant piece of evidence turned out to be a blunder.
When the reporter asked Dorian about Bitcoin during an in-person interview, Nakamoto reportedly responded with: “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.” Initially, this looked like a straightforward confession. Moreover, it made perfect sense, considering that one of the last emails Satoshi sent to one of his colleagues was: “I’ve moved on to other things. It’s in good hands with Gavin and everyone.”
However, it later turned out that Mr. Nakamoto misunderstood Goodman’s question and thought it related to his previous work for military contractors. In a subsequent full-length interview, he denied any connection to Bitcoin and stated that he’d never heard of it before.
As for Adam Back, the first time he was publicly considered a potential candidate for Satoshi was in a Financial Times article from 2016, when the piece went mostly unnoticed. In 2020, however, a more popular conspiracy research YouTube channel called BarelySociable presented circumstantial evidence that pointed to Back possibly being the creator of Bitcoin. However, Back firmly denied all the allegations made in the video.
No matter who Satoshi really is, his work and contributions to the world are undeniable. We are at the cusp of a potential digital and monetary revolution thanks to his creation. Although it is a mystery that we all wish to solve, perhaps our time would be best spent looking forward and preparing for the future. Additionally, Satoshi has many good reasons to want to remain anonymous forever. It is believed that in Bitcoin’s early days, Satoshi mined roughly one million bitcoins or ~4% of the entire bitcoin supply. Considering that one Bitcoin is currently worth ~$45,000, this puts Satoshi’s fortune at $45 billion. In other words, this would place quite a significant target on him.
This alone is a good enough reason to stay anonymous.