The true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto has baffled the media, members of the cryptocurrency
community, and industry observers. The name has been credited to have invented and introduced the cryptocurrency Bitcoin
. Earlier reports noted that this is a pseudonym of an individual who authored a white paper that describes the use of a distributed ledger using blockchain technology
to implement a decentralized digital currency. However, numerous groups have come to believe that the pseudonym represents not an individual but a team or group of people.
The Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System White Paper
A white paper was published online in 2008 with the title “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” The name Satoshi Nakamoto appeared as the sole and primary author on the front of its page. The paper described the use of a peer-to-peer network to solve the double-spending problem of earlier digital currency concepts.
Proposed digital currencies and digital payment tokens prior to the era of cryptocurrencies are prone to duplication in multiple transactions because they do not exist in a physical space, unlike tangible fiat currencies and coins.
To solve this problem, the white paper proposes a decentralized approach that involves removing third parties in transactions and using cryptography in each transaction. The paper becomes the first reference implementation of blockchain technology and cryptocurrency. Furthermore, its publication marked the birth of Bitcoin.
But the exact identity of the author was unknown. Nakamoto was an unfamiliar name within the communities of computer science, software development, cryptography, banking and finance, and other related fields and disciplines.
Speculations About the Real Person Behind Satoshi Nakamoto
Numerous speculations have emerged regarding the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto. Several of them point to individuals who are experts in the fields of cryptography and computer science. Furthermore, despite the surname, it is also interesting to note that most of these speculations also suggest that the true Nakamoto might not be of Japanese descent.
Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto
The American weekly news magazine Newsweek published an article on 6 March 2014 that supposedly uncovered the man behind Bitcoin. Authored by Lea McGrath Goodman, it introduced a Japanese American named Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto who lived in California. The man also uses his birth name “Satoshi Nakamoto.”
Goodman laid down facts to support her main thesis. For example, apart from sharing the same name with the mysterious author of the Bitcoin white paper, she mentioned that Dorian is a trained physicist who worked as a systems engineer for classified defense projects and as a computer engineer for several finance and technology companies.
A personal interview with Dorian seemed to confirm he was indeed the inventor of Bitcoin and the author of the associated white paper. When asked about the cryptocurrency, he responded: “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it. It has been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”
However, Dorian eventually retracted what he said. During several interviews with news reporters and in an online forum, he said he never heard of Bitcoin before and explained further that he misunderstood the interview question put forward by Goodman. He taught that the question was related to his previous work as an employee of Citibank.
The P2P Foundation account that uses the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym posted a message on 13 May 2015. It outright said, “I am not Dorian Nakamoto.” However, in September of the same year, the account posted another message announcing that the account had been hacked, thus raising suspicions about the authenticity of the May 2015 message.
Harold Thomas Finney II
Forbes journalist Andy Greenberg published an article in 2014 detailing his search for the mysterious creator of Bitcoin. His investigation started with Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto. However, he received an anonymous tip that pointed him toward Harold Thomas Finney II or Hal Finney, who also lived a few blocks away from the family home of Dorian.
Finney has been described as one of the pioneers of cryptography. Records revealed that he was the second-ever user of Bitcoin and was one of the few to receive the first Bitcoin test transaction from Nakamoto in early 2009. He also made numerous commentaries online, reported bugs, and made improvements to the Bitcoin blockchain.
Greenberg tapped the expertise of a writing analysis consultancy firm to examine and compare the writing styles of Finney and Nakamoto. Results suggest that the style of Finney was the closest resemblance to the style of Nakamoto, even when compared to other individuals speculated by other journalists and media organizations.
The Forbes journalist came up with two theories: either Finney was a ghostwriter for Nakamoto, or he simply used the identity of Dorian. However, after reviewing the emails between Finney and Nakamoto, as well as the history of his Bitcoin wallet, in addition to a deliberate denial, Greenberg concluded that his speculations were wrong.
Finney was a developer at PGP Corporation and was also a lead developer for several console games. He also created the first reusable proof-of-work
system in 2004. In 2009, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. His condition worsened over the years as the disease progressed. He died on 28 August 2014.
Nicholas “Nick” Szabo
There was also an attempt to establish Nick Szabo as the man behind the Nakamoto pseudonym. Szabo is a computer scientist, cryptographer, and legal scholar. Even before the introduction of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, he already published the working principles for implementing a decentralized digital currency he called bit gold.
A blogger who goes by the name Skye Grey used an approach called stylometric analysis to draw the connection and similarities between Szabo and Nakamoto. In a now-deleted blog article that he published in December 2013, he explained that he examined the textual biases found in the separate publicized articles of Szabo and Nakamoto.
Grey explained further in an interview with Techcrunch.com that only 0.1 percent of cryptography researchers could have written in a manner similar to the style used by Nakamoto. He also noted that Szabo was looking for technical collaborators to work on an ongoing bit gold project months before Bitcoin was announced to the public.
He also stressed that the Nakamoto white paper made no reference to Szabo and bit gold. This was odd because bit gold is the closest precursor to modern cryptocurrency. Furthermore, it was also unusual for Szabo not to publish reactions or commentaries about Bitcoin, especially considering his enthusiasm toward cryptography and decentralized currencies.
Szabo denied the speculation. In a July 2014 email sent to Dominic Frisby, a media personality and author of finance-related topics, he said, “I am afraid you got it wrong doxing me as Satoshi, but I am used to it.” Grey cautioned that he is not one hundred percent certain, while Frisby admitted that there is no proof that Szabo is Nakamoto.
Craig Steven Wright
The name “Craig Steven Wright” surfaced as another candidate for the real person behind the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym. Wright is an Australian computer scientist. Two separate investigative reports published by Wired and Gizmodo on 8 December 2015 suggested that he may have been the inventor of Bitcoin.
According to the Wired article by Andy Greenberg and Gwern Branwen, leaked documents seemed to suggest that Wright was the true inventor of Bitcoin. The Gizmodo article by Sam Biddle and Andy Cush also referenced evidence obtained by a hacker who purportedly broke into the email accounts of Wright.
The evidence claims that Satoshi Nakamoto was an alias mutually used by Wright and David Kleiman, a computer forensic analyst. On 2 May 2016, Wright publicly announced that he was the creator of the cryptocurrency. The statement held its ground for some time. However, skepticism and criticisms grew.
Several supporters of Bitcoin became unconvinced. Subsequent media reports also implied that the evidence acquired by Wired and Gizmodo might be part of an elaborated hoax devised by Wright himself. Both online publications also updated their articles with the addition of wordings suggesting that Wright may be a fraud.
Wright threatened to sue anyone who will refuse to acknowledge that he is the inventor of Bitcoin. He also promised to present proof of his claim. However, he has not provided strong evidence to indicate his ownership of the original Nakamoto white paper nor provide the original Satoshi Nakamoto GPG private key.
Satoshi Nakamoto as a Collective Name of a Group
There are also speculations that Nakamoto is not an individual but a team or group of individuals who collaborated to develop Bitcoin. For example, American computer security researcher Dan Kaminsky read and analyzed the source code underlying Bitcoin. He noted that the pseudonym could represent either a team of people or a single genius individual.
He explained further that Nakamoto is a world-class programmer with a deep understanding of C++ programming and broad knowledge of cryptography, peer-to-peer networking, and economics. The multi-faceted expertise needed to conceive and deploy Bitcoin requires either a collaboration between multidisciplinary individuals or high intelligence.
Other experts also had similar observations. The code was too complex and well-designed for one person to write. Even the philosophical and socioeconomic concepts that have become part of the selling point of the cryptocurrency are too complicated for a single computer-savvy person to identify, contain, and demonstrate.
Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether the inventor of Bitcoin is a single person or a group of people. The identity of Satoshi Nakamoto remains a mystery. But there are other pieces of evidence unearthed by researchers and journalists that paint a somewhat clear albeit incomplete picture of this enigmatic personality.
For starters, researchers have noted that this person or group might be of Commonwealth origin. The use of British English or any of its derivatives in the Nakamoto Bitcoin white paper, the source code comments, and online forums can be an indicator. For someone who uses a Japanese name, the writing style is indicative of being a native British English speaker.
Swiss software engineer Stefan Thomas graphed the timestamps of more than 500 online forum posts made by Satoshi Nakamoto. His chart showed that there are minimal to zero posts made between 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time or between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Japanese Standard Time, thereby suggesting that this person or group is not located in Japan.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Biddle, S. and Cush, A. 2015. “This Australian Says He and His Dead Friend Invented Bitcoin.” Gizmodo. Available online
- Biggs, J. 2013. “Who Is The Real Satoshi Nakamoto? One Research May Have Found The Answer.” TechCrunch. Available online
- Goodman, L. M. 2014. “The Face Behind Bitcoin.” Newsweek. Available online
- Greenberg, A. 2014. “Nakamoto’s Neighbor: My Hunt For Bitcoin’s Creator Led To A Paralyzed Crypto Genius.” Forbes. Available online
- Greenberg, A. and Branwen, G. 2015. “Is Bitcoin’s Creator this Unknown Australian Genius? Probably Not (Updated).” Wired. Available online
- S. 2008. Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. Bitcoin.org. Available via PDF