By the Danube River in Budapest, there is a statue. The face is bronze, and blank, so people can see their faces reflected in them. It is wearing a hoodie with the Bitcoin logo on the chest.
It is a bust of the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto. Nakamoto is the person or persons who founded Bitcoin, and they are anonymous and pseudonymous.
They created a decentralized, digital commodity worth more than a trillion dollars globally. It is a peer-to-peer way of transferring money, skipping the banks, and encrypted with blockchain technology, which creates digital signatures to prove where Bitcoin has come from.
The work on writing the code for Bitcoin began in 2007, Nakamoto stated. He or a colleague registered the domain name Bitcoin org on 18 August 2008 and created a website at that address. Nakamoto published on 31 October a white paper on the cryptography mailing list at metzdowd.com describing a digital cryptocurrency, titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.”
Nakamoto released version 0.1 of the Bitcoin software on SourceForge on 9 January 2009 and launched the network by defining the genesis block of Bitcoin (block number 0), which had a reward of 50 bitcoins. Embedded in the Coinbase transaction of this block is the textual content: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on the point of the second bailout for banks”, citing a headline in the UK newspaper The times posted on that date. This note has been interpreted as a timestamp and a derisive comment on the alleged instability resulting from fractional-reserve banking. Until mid-2010, Nakamoto collaborated with other developers on the Bitcoin software, making all modifications to the source code himself. Then he stopped his identified involvement in the venture, gave control of the source code repository and network alert key to Gavin Andresen, and transferred several related domains to various prominent participants of the Bitcoin community.
Nakamoto owns between 750,000 and 1,100,000 Bitcoin. As of November 2021, his net worth is up to 73 billion US dollars, making him the 15th-richest person globally.
Nakamoto has never discovered personal information when discussing technical subjects, although he has at times supplied statements on banking and fractional-reserve banking. On his P2P Foundation profile as of 2012, Nakamoto claimed to be a 37-year-old male who lived in Japan, but some speculated he was unlikely to be Japanese because of his native-level use of English.
A few have considered that Nakamoto is probably a group of people: Dan Kaminsky, a security researcher who read the Bitcoin code, said that Nakamoto could be a “team of people” or a “genius.” Laszlo Hanyecz, a developer who had emailed Nakamoto, felt the code was too well designed for one person; Gavin Andresen has said of Nakamoto’s code: “He was a fantastic coder, but it was quirky.”
The use of British English in both supply code comments and forum postings, inclusive of the expression “bloody hard,” phrases such as “flat” and “maths,” and the spellings “grey” and “color,” brought about speculation that Nakamoto, or at least one person in a consortium claiming to be him, was of Commonwealth origin. The connection with London’s Times newspaper in the first Bitcoin block mined via Nakamoto suggested to some a specific interest in the British government.
Stefan Thomas, a Swiss software engineer, and active community member graphed the timestamps for each of Nakamoto’s Bitcoin forum posts (more than 500); the chart showed a steep decline to almost no posts between the hours of 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time. It was between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Japan Standard Time suggests an unusual sleep pattern for someone supposedly living in Japan. As this pattern held even on Saturdays and Sundays, it meant that Nakamoto was consistently asleep at this time.
The identity of Nakamoto is unknown, but speculations have focussed on various cryptography and computer science experts, most of the non-Japanese descent.
Hal Finney (4 May 1956 – 28 August 2014) was a pre-Bitcoin cryptographic pioneer and the primary person (aside from Nakamoto himself) to apply the software, file bug reports, and enhance it. In keeping with Forbes journalist Andy Greenberg, he also lived some blocks from a man named ‘Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto. Greenberg requested the writing analysis consultancy Juola & Associates to compare a pattern of Finney’s writing to Nakamoto’s. Observed it to be the nearest resemblance they had yet come upon, such as when compared to candidates counseled through Newsweek, Fast Company, The New Yorker, Ted Nelson, and Skye Grey. Greenberg theorized that Finney could have been a ghostwriter on behalf of Nakamoto or used his neighbor Dorian’s identification as a “drop” or “patsy whose personal facts are used to hide online exploits.” But, after assembly Finney, seeing the emails between him and Nakamoto and his wallet’s history (consisting of the first Bitcoin transaction from Nakamoto to him, which he forgot to pay back), and hearing his denial, Greenberg concluded that Finney was telling the truth. Juola & Associates additionally found that Nakamoto’s emails to Finney more closely resemble Nakamoto’s different writings than Finney’s do. Finney’s fellow extropian and from time to time co-blogger Robin Hanson assigned a subjective chance of “at least” 15% that “Hal was more concerned than he is stated” earlier. Before further proof was suggested, that was not the case.
In a high-profile 6 March 2014 article in the magazine Newsweek, journalist Leah McGrath Goodman identified Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, a Japanese American man living in California, whose birth name is Satoshi Nakamoto, as the Nakamoto in question. Besides his name, Goodman pointed to several facts that circumstantially suggested he was the Bitcoin inventor. Trained as a physicist at Cal Poly University in Pomona, Nakamoto worked as a systems engineer on classified defense projects and computer engineer for technology and financial information services companies. According to his daughter, Nakamoto was laid off twice in the early 1990s and turned libertarian and encouraged her to start her own business “not under the government’s thumb.” In the article’s seemingly most extensive piece of evidence, Goodman wrote that when she asked him about Bitcoin during a brief in-person interview, Nakamoto confirmed his identity as the Bitcoin founder by stating: “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.”
The article’s publication led to a flurry of media interest, including reporters camping out near Dorian Nakamoto’s house and subtly chasing him by a car when he drove to an interview. Later that day, the pseudonymous Nakamoto’s P2P Foundation account posted its first message in five years, stating: “I am not Dorian Nakamoto.” During the subsequent full-length interview, Dorian Nakamoto denied all connection to Bitcoin, saying he had never heard of the currency before and had misinterpreted Goodman’s question about his previous work for military contractors. In a Reddit “ask-me-anything” interview, he claimed he had misinterpreted Goodman’s question related to his work for Citibank. In September, the P2P Foundation account posted another message saying it had been hacked, raising questions over the message’s authenticity six months earlier.
In December 2013, blogger Skye Grey linked Nick Szabo to the Bitcoin white paper using an approach he described as stylometric analysis. Szabo is a decentralized currency enthusiast and had published a paper on “bit gold,” one of the precursors of Bitcoin. He is known to have been interested in using pseudonyms in the 1990s. In a May 2011 article, Szabo stated about the Bitcoin 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 (assuming Nakamoto is not Finney or Dai).” Financial author Dominic Frisby provides much circumstantial evidence but, as he admits, no proof that Nakamoto is Szabo. Szabo has denied being Nakamoto. In a July 2014 email to Frisby, he said: “Thanks for letting me know. I’m afraid you got it wrong doxing me as Satoshi, but I’m used to it.” Nathaniel Popper wrote in The New York Times that “the most convincing evidence pointed to a reclusive American man of Hungarian descent named Nick Szabo.”
On 8 December 2015, Wired wrote that Craig Steven Wright, an Australian academic, “either invented Bitcoin or is a brilliant hoaxer who badly wants us to believe he did.” Craig Wright took down his Twitter account, and neither he nor his ex-wife responded to press inquiries. The same day, Gizmodo published a story with evidence supposedly obtained by a hacker who broke into Wright’s email accounts, claiming that Satoshi Nakamoto was a joint pseudonym for Craig Steven Wright and computer forensics analyst David Kleiman, who died in 2013. Jon Matonis (former director of the Bitcoin Foundation) and Bitcoin developer Gavin Andresen supported Wright’s claim.
Some prominent Bitcoin promoters remained unconvinced by the reports. Subsequent reports also raised the possibility that the evidence provided was an elaborate hoax, which Wired acknowledged “cast doubt” on their suggestion that Wright was Nakamoto. Bitcoin developer Peter Todd said that Wright’s blog post, which appeared to contain cryptographic proof, actually had nothing. Bitcoin developer Jeff Garzik agreed that evidence publicly provided by Wright does not prove anything, and security researcher Dan Kaminsky concluded Wright’s claim was an “intentional scammer.”
In May 2019, Wright started using English libel law to sue people who denied he was the inventor of Bitcoin and called him a fraud. In 2019 Wright registered US copyright for the Bitcoin white paper and the code for Bitcoin 0.1. Wright’s team claimed this was “government agency recognition of Craig Wright as Satoshi Nakamoto.” The United States Copyright Office issued a press release clarifying that this was not the case (as they primarily determine whether a work is eligible for copyright and do not investigate legal ownership, which, if disputed, is determined by the courts).
In a 2011 article in The New Yorker, Joshua Davis claimed to have narrowed down the identity of Nakamoto to several possible individuals, including the Finnish economic sociologist Dr. Vili Lehdonvirta and Irish student Michael Clear, who was in 2008 an undergraduate student in cryptography at Trinity College Dublin. Clear vehemently denied he was Nakamoto, as did Lehdonvirta.
In October 2011, writing for Fast Company, investigative journalist Adam Penenberg cited circumstantial evidence suggesting Neal King, Vladimir Oksman, and Charles Bry could be Nakamoto. They jointly filed a patent application that contained the phrase “computationally impractical to reverse” in 2008, also used in the Bitcoin white paper by Nakamoto. Three days after the patent was filed, register the domain name Bitcoin.org. All three men denied being Nakamoto when contacted by Penenberg.
In May 2013, Ted Nelson speculated that Nakamoto was Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki. Later, an article was published in The Age newspaper that claimed that Mochizuki denied these speculations, but without attributing a source for the denial.
A 2013 article in Vice listed Gavin Andresen, Jed McCaleb, or a government agency as possible candidates to be Nakamoto.
In 2013, two Israeli mathematicians, Dorit Ron and Adi Shamir published a paper claiming a link between Nakamoto and Ross Ulbricht. The two based their suspicion on an analysis of the network of Bitcoin transactions but later retracted their claim.
In 2016, the Financial Times said that Nakamoto might have been a group of people, mentioning Hal Finney, Nick Szabo, and Adam Back as potential members. In 2020, Barely Sociable’s YouTube channel claimed that Adam Back, inventor of Bitcoin predecessor Hashcash, is Nakamoto, and back subsequently denied this.
Elon Musk denied he was Nakamoto in a tweet on 28 November 2017, responding to speculation in a medium.com post by a former SpaceX intern.
In 2019, journalist Evan Ratliff claimed drug dealer Paul Le Roux could be Nakamoto.
In 2021 developer Evan Hatch proposed cypherpunk Len Sassaman of COSIC as a possible candidate.
Most people will happily live their lives never using Bitcoin. But it’s still an extraordinary mystery that somewhere out there is a person (or there are persons) who has shifted financial markets and helped people make enormous fortunes.