Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin – the world’s first fully realised cryptocurrency, which regulators like the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) warned had “no intrinsic value” – is now the largest cryptocurrency in the world with a total market value of around $1 trillion (£800,000,000,000). It is winning more mainstream acceptance and has attracted a hefty $1.5bn (£1.1bn) investment from Tesla, who have now just made $1bn (£709m) in profit. It has also sparked internal pressure from within large Wall Street Banks such as JPMorgan Chase to take cryptocurrency more seriously and experts in London have called on the City to embrace it post-Brexit. Bitcoin is here to stay, but the true identity of the creator behind the revolutionary cryptocurrency still remains an intriguing mystery to this day.
Satoshi Nakamoto is the anonymous programmer (or group of programmers) behind Bitcoin’s invention. Their name is an alias and many initially believed Nakamoto was Japanese. Their online forum profile certainly suggested so, but none of the source code is labelled in Japanese and the message on the first ever blocks created for the Bitcoin network (Genesis Block): “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”, suggests he/she/they are British. Or maybe it was just a timestamp that marked the occasion of Bitcoin’s birth during a tumultuous time in 2009 when the UK government was deciding whether to bail out big banks a second time (they eventually did).
Nakamoto often alternated between British and American spellings in their works, which suggests they were possibly an Anglo-American development team, if not a single individual trying to throw everyone off, or perhaps they were from a Commonwealth country.
The world was rocked by an intense global financial meltdown in 2008 caused by a combination of real-estate bubbles and financial institutions taking reckless risks. As global economies slowed, evictions and unemployment levels surged and taxpayers were forced to bail out banks after they mishandled millions of dollars worth of people’s money. Around this time, Nakamoto made their first appearance with the publishing of the Bitcoin white paper.
The white paper offered a solution to the problem of “double-spending” which plagued digital currency payments back then. (In essence, fraudsters could spend the exact same funds twice since there was no central authority or financial institution to prevent it.) The paper also proposed eliminating the need to depend on middleman financial institutions to verify and process online transactions.
Bitcoin became an innovative, secure and decentralised electronic payment system that operated through a peer-to-peer (P2P) network, where PCs could be connected and data transferred without going through a central server or authority. ‘Blockchains’ were designed to be ledgers that stored data on all transactions. Nakamoto also designed Bitcoin to have a finite supply of 21 million coins to ensure its value holds steady and so that each individual Bitcoin could appreciate in value over time.
This data was then verified by a distributed network of validators and extensively audited by individuals known as Miners, who would protect the Bitcoin network and ensure that the transactions were packed into blocks that met strict cryptographic standards so that fraudsters couldn’t modify the blocks to double-spend their Bitcoins. This also meant that third party financial institutions were not needed to prevent any instances of double-spending. Instead, the Bitcoin network itself could stop double-spending. The entire process has a waiting time of around 10-20 minutes for transactions to go through, whereas nowadays other cryptocurrencies have faster transaction times. Miners could also potentially earn Bitcoins as a reward for their work.
The data stored on blockchains are publicly available without revealing the identity of the owner, highlighting Bitcoin’s transparency and privacy as a cryptocurrency. Individual Bitcoin wallets that came with private keys (seeds) were also proposed. These acted as the owner’s unique digital signature and helped to verify and process their funds when making a transaction, without relying on financial institutions. This gave people more financial control and freedom from institutional middlemen.
The most certain trait about Nakamoto is that they are very careful, secretive, and determined not to compromise their anonymity. In all of the correspondence and forum posts that researchers have painstakingly scoured through, none of them reveal any personal details about Nakamoto. Gavin Andreson, who was a part of Bitcoin’s initial development in 2009 before taking over as Bitcoin’s lead developer in 2011 (after Nakamoto disappeared), said Nakamoto “was never chatty”, and “…all we talked about was code.”
So, who could the mind (or minds) behind Bitcoin be? Below are just a few of the individuals who have previously been suspected (or currently claim to be) Nakamoto.
- A Japanese American computer engineer whose birth name was Satoshi Nakamoto and who has previously worked on classified US military and corporate projects.
- Became a libertarian in the 1990s and was “very wary of the government, taxes and people in charge”, according to his daughter. Bitcoin is decentralized and unregulated.
- Similarly alternated between British and American spellings in correspondence, possibly because of Dorian’s lifelong enthusiasm for importing model trains from England whilst learning to speak English.
- It is unknown exactly what work Dorian undertook after working for the Federal Aviation Administration in the wake of 9/11, suggesting that he may have worked on Bitcoin during the early and mid-2000s. Satoshi told Andreson he worked on Bitcoin for years, so this time frame seems appropriate.
- But this evidence is highly circumstantial. Dorian Nakamoto has strongly denied being Satoshi Nakamoto and the original Newsweek article claiming Dorian was the inventor of Bitcoin has since been discredited.
- An Australian computer scientist and businessman who was initially suspected of being Satoshi Nakamoto in 2015 by Wired and Gizmodo. This would fit the theory that Nakamoto is from a Commonwealth country, given their flawless English.
- Wright publicly came forward as Nakamoto in 2016 and digitally signed blocks supposedly linked to the ones Nakamoto originally mined.
- Gavin Andreson believed Wright was Nakamoto, although some security researchers doubt his claim because he has refused to publicly sign anything with private keys associated with early Bitcoin blocks. He has only signed documents with private keys associated with the first Bitcoin transaction that happened nine days later, so the evidence does not necessarily suggest he is Nakamoto.
- Security experts such as Dan Kaminsky have disputed the allegation that Wright is Nakamoto due to discrepancies in the available evidence, even calling the situation a “scam.” Andreson was also asked to step down as Bitcoin’s lead developer due to fears he could have potentially passed Bitcoin’s source code to scammers.
- Wright still claims today that he is Nakamoto and has used UK libel law to sue critics who accuse him of being a fraud. He has credited his late grandfather Ronald Lynam, who did intelligence work for the Australian military during WW2, with influencing his interest in Japanese history and culture and explained that his inspiration for the alias, Satoshi Nakamoto, came from Japanese philosopher Tominaga Nakamoto.
- An American computer scientist and legal scholar who has been suggested as the man behind Nakamoto’s identity over the years, although he strongly denies it. Since he is a legal scholar, he could have ensured that the Bitcoin white paper was suitable for publishing.
- Linguist experts from Aston University in Birmingham claimed that Nakamoto had linguistic similarities with Szabo when comparing the Bitcoin white paper to Szabo’s other writings. The similarities showed that he probably was the main author of the Bitcoin white paper and, therefore, the creator of Bitcoin. The Bitcoin white paper was also created using an open-source document preparation software known as LaTex, which many of Szabo’s other publications used.
- Szabo first proposed the creation of a digital decentralized currency called Bit gold in 2005, leading others to believe that he later went on to create Bitcoin since Bit gold is considered a predecessor to Bitcoin’s framework.
- However, there is still no convincing evidence that proves Szabo is Nakamoto. It has not been definitively proven that Szabo even authored the Bitcoin white paper or collaborated with others in developing Bitcoin, but Aston University and researchers like Skyler Grey, who have analysed Szabo’s writings and the white paper, are confident that Szabo should not be ruled out.
If Nakamoto still exists today, it is believed they could be sitting on wealth worth around $48bn (£34bn). If the price of Bitcoin increases to $160,000 (£113,000) per coin, Nakamoto could become the richest individual or group on the planet. Sergio Demain Lerner, a cryptocurrency researcher, estimated that during the first seven months of Bitcoin’s existence, Nakamoto may have mined up to 1.1 million Bitcoins after examining the blocks mined between January 2009 to January 2010 (blocks 1-36288) using a single computer rig.
So where exactly is Nakamoto’s wallet that stores the wealth? It is believed that the first wallet, made in January 2009 and holding 50 Bitcoins that are now worth $2.3m (£1.6m) and has remained untouched ever since, could be Nakamoto’s, but the truth may never be known until they reveal themselves publicly as the owner.
What is known so far is that Nakamoto is one of the world’s greatest hide and seek champions. JPMorgan estimates that Bitcoin may reach a value of $100,000 (£71,000) by the end of the year. Alternatively, Bitcoin could crash, although this is unlikely at the moment. The cryptocurrency market is highly volatile but the mystery behind Nakamoto’s identity does not seem to have affected Bitcoin’s growth over the years. Even if Bitcoin does crash, time and time again Bitcoin has managed to recover – notably after the 2011, 2012-13, and 2017-18 crashes, which shows that cryptocurrency won’t simply disappear like Nakamoto did. It may be used as an alternative storage of wealth, like gold for rich billionaires, in the near future. Although it doesn’t look like Bitcoin will totally replace traditional currencies in everyday life anytime soon, Nakamoto’s creation is here to stay.