Satoshi Nakamoto has remained a shadowy anomaly since he or she fluttered around online in 2008 talking about a then-nascent idea for a digital currency called Bitcoin, which was free of governments, central banks, and regulations.
Nakamoto, originally believed to be a Japanese cryptographer, was a contributor to a cryptography mailing list that spread some of these ideas. No one knew who he or she (or even they) was, but Nakamoto eventually published a paper delving into the theory that would become Bitcoin and in early 2009, the first digital coins—pretty much worthless at the time—were mined and made available.
Early advocates of the cryptocurrency corresponded with Nakamoto but it wasn’t long until he disappeared online, leaving behind a legacy as Bitcoin’s creator but with no clear identity. Who was Satoshi Nakamoto? It seemed like no one would ever really know.
Since then, Bitcoin has thrived and suffered. From its valuation highs of more than a thousand dollars for one Bitcoin in late 2013 to January this year when leading developer Mike Hearn deemed the Bitcoin project a failure@octskyward/the-resolution-of-the-bitcoin-experiment-dabb30201f7.
While all of this was going on, internet sleuths and journalists have attempted to piece together the clumps of evidence to find out who this mysterious figure is.
In March 2014, Newsweek ran a cover story claiming to have found the man. Journalist Leah McGrath Goodman believed she had uncovered Satoshi in the form of Dorian Nakamoto, a physicist in California. The story was largely debunked and Dorian Nakamoto is now trying to sue the publication. Other speculated figures include cryptographers Hal Finney, the second ever user of Bitcoin, and Nick Szabo as well as a slew of other mathematicians and computer scientists that have been associated with the cryptocurrency.
Most of the people over the years that have been credited with, or perhaps accused of, being Satoshi Nakamoto have denied the claim. That was until this week when Craig Wright, an Australian entrepreneur, came forward to stake his claim to being Bitcoin’s creator. The quest was over, a myth no more.
Or was it? Wright’s name has been associated with Nakamoto before. In December of last year, Wired published what it believed to be compelling evidence that Wright was indeed the currency’s mastermind. Then by bizarre coincidence, on the same day the story was published, Wright’s home and business were raided by Australian police investigating tax affairs. The police denied any connection to the media reports but it stoked the fires of suspicion.
Now in May, Wright has emerged from silence to say that he is in fact Satoshi Nakamoto. He approached the BBC, The Economist, and GQ as the three media outlets to help him tell his story.
To make his case, Wright signed a number of messages using cryptographic keys that were first created by Nakamoto when bitcoin was originally developed. Wright was then backed up by Gavin Andresen, chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation. Andresen published a blog on Monday stating he believed Wright and was present for the demonstration he did with the BBC where he signed the messages.
“But even before I witnessed the keys signed and then verified on a clean computer that could not have been tampered with, I was reasonably certain I was sitting next to the Father of Bitcoin,” he wrote.
Much of media coverage that followed hyped up the arrival of a legend. There was finally a face to the name but the celebration was short-lived as critics continued to heap skepticism on the supposed revelation.
Dan Kaminsky, a security researcher from WhiteOps, pointed out that Wright appears to have simply re-used a signature from 2009 associated with Satoshi.
“I think Gavin et al are victims of another scam, and Wright’s done classic misdirection by generating different scams for different audiences,” he said in a follow up blog piece. It’s even been reported before that several scammers have tried reusing old Satoshi’s signatures to dupe people.
Developer Patrick McKenzie accused Wright of fooling journalists by using an admittedly complicated verification method that they may not be able to vet. “I’m mystified as to how this got past Andresen, though,” he wrote.
One major flaw that appears in Wright’s case is that he used this signature to demonstrate that he has ownership over “block one”, one of the first block transactions carried out on the Bitcoin network. In actuality, it’s not the very first block. That would be block zero, otherwise known as the “genesis block”. This block was created by Satoshi Nakamoto and has been written into Bitcoin’s code base. It cannot be tampered with and its funds can’t be touched.
For many skeptics, Wright needs to prove ownership of the genesis block to well and truly prove that he is in fact Satoshi Nakamoto.
Since Monday, what began as a potentially historical event began to crack under the pressure.
The Economist, one of the media outlets that got the scoop, pulled back after the condemnation. Hours after the original report, it published another story stating, “The onus is now squarely on Mr. Wright to provide better evidence.”
Gavin Andresen has even stepped away from his original statements where he was enthused over the arrival of Wright.
Then on Wednesday, Wright claimed that he would now provide further “extraordinary proof;.
The Bitcoin community is certainly hungry to see this proof. But in yet another twist, on Thursday, Wright rescinded on his promise to reveal this evidence, which may have involved the genesis block. He pulled all the old posts from his blog and instead replaced the homepage with a message entitled I’m Sorry.
Wright added that he was not strong enough to go through with it and apologized to those who believed him for potentially damaging their reputation.
It’s been a whirlwind week for Bitcoin. On Monday it was teased with the long-awaited identity of Satoshi Nakamoto and by Thursday it appeared to be all over. His critics haven’t backed down, believing the man is a scammer and he simply got caught out.
Is Craig Wright Satoshi Nakamoto? Some still believe him but the majority of the bitcoin and cryptography experts out there have thrown cold water on the whole situation. We may never know who the real Satoshi Nakamoto is, and that may or may not be a good thing, but Bitcoin’s greatest mythic figure continues to live in the shadows.