Ever since Bitcoin was launched and released to the public in 2009, two questions have fascinated followers: who created bitcoin and who is Satoshi Nakamoto? Even though Bitcoin’s brainchild has remained an enigma ever since its conception, speculation has mounted in recent years about the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto - the answer of which still remains a mystery.
- The creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, has not been identified.
- Satoshi is thought to control around 700,000 to 1 million bitcoins, which remain dormant.
- Several people have claimed to be Satoshi, including Australian computer scientist Craig Wright, but no concrete evidence has been provided yet.
- There are several candidates who could potentially be Satoshi: Hal Finney, Nick Szabo, and Paul Le Roux.
Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?
Satoshi Nakamoto - most likely a pseudonym - is the name attributed to the creation of Bitcoin. Satoshi introduced Bitcoin to the Cryptography Mailing List, published the whitepaper on bitcoin.org, created Bitcointalk and guided the development through its early stages. He eventually disappeared from the internet completely and handed stewardship of the Bitcoin project to Gavin Andresen and others in December 2010.
The creator of Bitcoin was very careful to cover their tracks by using the anonymised email service gmx.com so that no one could pinpoint their location. While we do not know a lot about Satoshi Nakamoto, we do know that they started working on Bitcoin in 2007. According to their P2P Foundation profile, they were born on April 7, 1975 in Japan. The only other legacy Satoshi left behind was the code of Bitcoin itself and writings across Bitcointalk and various other email lists.
Analysis of his online activity and writing has attempted to narrow down the enigmatic creator of Bitcoin. For instance, according to the timing of Satoshi’s posts online, it would be hard to believe that they were based in Japan. Instead, the timings based him in an EST timezone in the United States - as they were never active online between 6am and 11am GMT.
There are few indications that Satoshi might have been based in the UK. For example, he used The Times headline to prove to the world that the genesis block was created and used the date-month-year format, which is mostly found in the UK. His writing online was always in impeccable English. But the timing of his posts and other clues may have been intentional to throw people off.
Satoshi was the first miner on the Bitcoin network and it is estimated that he amassed anywhere between 700,000 to 1 million bitcoins. We do not know exactly how many blocks Satoshi mined, but it is widely acknowledged that many of the first Bitcoin blocks were indeed mined by him and the coins earned from these blocks were never moved from their original addresses.
Around the all-time high for the price of bitcoin, Nakamoto would have been among the top 100 richest people in the world. If these bitcoins moved, the effect on the market would be massive. Some suggest that the Satoshi bitcoins could serve as a bounty to encourage people to try to break the Bitcoin protocol.
As Bitcoin was in the early stages of its development, Wikileaks started to take notice but Satoshi was wary of the negative attention that it could draw to Bitcoin and potentially harm its development. “Wikileaks has kicked the hornet’s nest, and the swarm is heading toward us,” Satoshi is famously quoted as saying.
By this time, Satoshi was working with others on Bitcoin, including Gavin Andresen and around a week later after his warning about Wikileaks, Satoshi disappeared from the Bitcointalk forum forever.
After his last post on Bitcointalk, Satoshi then stopped replying to emails from Andresen after it emerged that Andresen was planning to speak about bitcoin at a CIA headquartered emerging technologies conference in April 2011.
In one of Satoshi’s last ever emails, released by former Bitcoin developer Mike Hearn, Satoshi poured cold water on ever returning to Bitcoin, saying: “I've moved on to other things. It's in good hands with Gavin and everyone.” He has not surfaced since.
Since then, a few people have come forward claiming to be the genuine creator of Bitcoin (but have offered no conclusive proof). For instance, Australian computer scientist Craig Wright claimed to be the true creator of Bitcoin after investigations by the BBC, Wired and Gizmodo suggested he was Satoshi in 2015 and 2016.
However, Wright’s proof was later claimed to be a forgery. Until someone signs the genesis block or uses the PGP public key that is widely associated with Satoshi, any “proof” put forward is insufficient.
The Most Likely Satoshi Candidates
Many people have tried to identify the mysterious inventor of Bitcoin. We profile some of the most likely Satoshi candidates below.
Reusable Proof of Work was a concept created by American programmer Hal Finney, who in turn was the first person to start mining Bitcoin after Satoshi and was the recipient of the first ever Bitcoin transaction. One theory about the identity of Satoshi is that it is actually Hal Finney, who used a pseudonym to distance himself from the creation of Bitcoin.
As the second developer employed by the PGP Corporation, a regular user of the cypherpunks mailing list and a notable cryptographic activist, Finney fits the bill well. Finney also had a prior interest in creating a cryptocurrency, with an attempt in December 1993 called CRASH (CRypto cASH). He was also the first person to give a positive response to Satoshi’s Bitcoin proposal when it was published on the Cryptography Mailing List.
An interesting fact about Finney is that he lived in the same small town as Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, who was outed as the supposed creator of Bitcoin by Newsweek in March 2014. Finney and Nakamoto lived less than two miles away from each other in a town of around 36,000 people.
Finney denied being Satoshi despite playing a major role in Bitcoin’s early stages and eventually died in August 2014 from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
Nick Szabo created the “bit gold” concept, which was published in 2005. The concept is regarded as the closest anyone has ever got to creating the system we know as Bitcoin today, leading many to believe that the computer scientist and cryptographer is the real Satoshi Nakamoto.
Strangely enough, the Bitcoin whitepaper does not reference Szabo’s work even though it was the most relevant precursor to Bitcoin. Also, Satoshi had to be someone very academically minded, which matches Szabo’s profile.
A 2013 investigation looked at the stylometry of Bitcoin’s whitepaper and concluded Szabo was the most likely creator of the cryptocurrency. Much of the unusual wording found in the whitepaper are also found in Szabo’s writings prior to Bitcoin’s release.
Also, just before Bitcoin was released, Szabo sought collaborators to help him test out his bit gold idea in April 2008, stating, “[bit gold] would greatly benefit from a demonstration, an experimental market (with a trusted third party substituted for the complex security that would be needed for a real system). Anybody want to help me code one up?” Following the release of Bitcoin, the bit gold project went silent and nothing materialised out of it.
Szabo has denied claims that he is Satoshi.
Paul Le Roux
Paul Le Roux was part-coder and part criminal mastermind who was apprehended by the Drug Enforcement Agency in 2012 for drug running and various other crimes. Not long after Le Roux’s arrest, Satoshi disappeared from the Internet and said he was “moving onto other things”.
Le Roux had the right knowledge, as he was a world-class computer programmer fluent in C++, the language used to build Bitcoin and had experience developing open source software that in some ways mirrored Bitcoin.
For example, in 1999 he developed the encryption software E4M (Encryption for the Masses), and published it to the Cryptography Mailing List, as well as launching a site hosting the open source code to take feedback. Bitcoin was released to the public in a very similar way, suggesting Le Roux may have been involved in the cryptocurrency’s launch.
Another link between Le Roux and Satoshi is gambling. Le Roux had some experience in the gambling industry and had even written his own piece of casino software. The first code for Bitcoin included a basic interface for an online poker application.
Both figures also had an anti-government perspective, a distrust of banks and a desire to create a new financial system to transact digitally. According to one report, Le Roux and his colleagues were discussing an online digital currency as early as 2007-2008.
A weird quirk of Satoshi’s writings is that it changed between UK English and American English. The difference in writing styles suggest that Satoshi was most likely a group of people, or perhaps Satoshi wanted to cover their tracks. However, an interesting fact about Le Roux is that he spent a lot of time between Commonwealth countries and the US, which could explain the use of different styles of English.
The knowledge of various fields required to create bitcoin is an impressive feat for any individual, suggesting Bitcoin was not in fact created by a single person but rather through a collaboration of different people.
Some have pointed to government agencies (because of bitcoin’s transparent nature and a potential motivation for technological superiority), while others have pointed to the first letters of the Japanese companies Samsung, Toshiba, Nakamichi and Motorola, which spells out Satoshi Nakamoto.
Nevertheless, many people have been identified as the possible creator of Bitcoin, including Hal Finney, Nick Szabo and Paul Le Roux. Several individuals have unsuccessfully claimed that they are Satoshi, including Craig Wright, but have offered no definitive proof.
For Bitcoin to stay true to its founding principles, it is probably best that Nakamoto remains a mystery. With no one to point the finger to, Bitcoin remains unimpeded by governments and removes the possibility of a leader or figurehead having undue influence on the digital currency’s future path.