Ten years ago, on Jan. 3, 2009, the Bitcoin (BTC) network was created as Satoshi Nakamoto mined the genesis block, also known as block number zero.
However, the identity behind the Bitcoin creator has remained one of the biggest mysteries in the crypto community since the original white paper was published by Satoshi in October 2008.
Various journalistic investigations have attempted to unveil the person or group of individuals responsible for creating the top digital currency, but Satoshi’s real identity remains unknown to date. On his P2P Foundation profile — which went inactive in late 2010 — Nakamoto identifies as a 43-year-old male who lives in Japan, but he almost never posted on the Bitcoin forum during local daytime. Other clues, like the British spelling of words like “colour” and “optimise,” suggest he was of Commonwealth origin.
So far, the media and community have come up with numerous results of who might be the real Satoshi, none of which have been confirmed. On June 14, 2018 the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said that it could “neither confirm nor deny the existence” of Nakamoto after a Motherboard journalist requested information on his identity through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Here’s the (incomplete) list of potential candidates.
Suspect credentials: a 38 year-old Finnish professor at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology
Source: Joshua Davis, The New Yorker
One of the first attempts to reveal Satoshi’s identity dates back to October 2011, when journalist Joshua Davis wrote a piece for the New Yorker. During his quest to identify the Bitcoin creator, Davis found Michael Clear, a young graduate student in cryptography at Trinity College in Dublin, who had worked at Allied Irish Banks to improve its currency-trading software and co-authored an academic paper on peer-to-peer technology. Clear denied he was Satoshi, but offered the journalist the name of “a solid fit for Nakamoto” — a thirty-one-year-old Finnish researcher at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology named Vili Lehdonvirta, who used to be a video game programmer and studied virtual currencies.
However, after being contacted by Davis, Lehdonvirta also claimed he was not Satoshi. “You need to be a crypto expert to build something as sophisticated as bitcoin,” he said. “There aren’t many of those people, and I’m definitely not one of them.”
Suspect credentials: a 49 year-old Japanese mathematician at Kyoto University
Source: Ted Nelson
On May 17, 2013, American IT pioneer, sociologist and philosopher Ted Nelson suggested that Nakamoto could be Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki of Kyoto University, who worked mostly in number theory and geometry. Nelson’s evidence was largely circumstantial, however, as it mostly rested on how Mochizuki released his solution to the ABC Conjecture, one of the biggest unsolved problems in mathematics.
A few days later, Nelson told Quartz that he would donate to charity if Mochizuki denied being Satoshi Nakamoto:
“If that person denies being Satoshi, I will humbly give one bitcoin (at this instant worth about $123) to any charity he selects. If he is Satoshi and denies it, at least he will feel guilty. (One month time limit on denial– bitcoins are going UP.)”
In July 2013, The Age reported that Mochizuki denied Nelson’s claims, but did not specify the source.
Suspect credentials: a 68-year-old Japanese American man who has done classified work for major corporations and the U.S. military
Source: Leah McGrath Goodman, Newsweek
On March 6, 2014, Newsweek published a lengthy article written by journalist Leah McGrath Goodman, who identified Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, a Japanese American male living in California as the original Bitcoin creator.
Goodman learned that Nakamoto worked as a systems engineer on classified defense projects and computer engineer for technology and financial information services companies. Nakamoto reportedly turned libertarian after being laid off from his job twice in the early 1990s.
There were other clues besides his birth name. Goodman argues that Nakamoto confirmed his identity as the Bitcoin founder after she asked him about the cryptocurrency during a face-to-face interview. “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it,” he allegedly replied. “It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”
However, in a following full-length interview with The Associated Press, Dorian Nakamoto denied all connection to Bitcoin. He said that he had never heard of it before, and that he thought that Goodman was asking about his previous work for military contractors, which was largely classified. Interestingly, in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” interview, he stated he had misinterpreted Goodman’s question as being related to his work for Citibank. Later on the same day, the Nakamoto’s P2P Foundation account posted its first message in several years, stating: “I am not Dorian Nakamoto.”
Suspect credentials: (supposedly) a 55 year-old American man of Hungarian descent and creator of BitGold, a predecessor of Bitcoin
Sources: Skye Grey, researcher; Dominic Frisby, financial writer
In December 2013, researcher Skye Grey published results of his stylometric analysis, which indicated that the person behind Satoshi Nakamoto was a computer scientist and cryptographer named Nick Szabo.
Essentially, Grey searched for unusual turns of phrase and vocabulary patterns “in particular places which you would expect a cryptography researcher to contribute to,” and then “evaluated the fitness of each match found by running textual similarity metrics on several pages of their writing.”
Szabo is a decentralized currency enthusiast who developed the concept of “BitGold,” a pre-Bitcoin, privacy-focused digital currency, back in 1998. In his May 2011 article on Bitcoin, Szabo wrote:
“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 really Finney or Dai).”
Additional research carried out by financial author Dominic Frisby, which he describes in his 2014 book titled “Bitcoin: The Future of Money?” also suggests that Nick Szabo is the real Satoshi. In an interview on Russia Today, Frisby said: “I’ve concluded there is only one person in the whole world that has the sheer breadth but also the specificity of knowledge and it is this chap [Nick Szabo] .”
Nevertheless, Szabo has denied being Satoshi. In a July 2014 email to Frisby, he reportedly stated:
“Thanks for letting me know. I’m afraid you got it wrong doxing me as Satoshi, but I’m used to it.”
Suspect credentials: an American cryptographic pioneer who died in 2014 at the age of 58
Source: Andy Greenberg, Forbes (who eventually denied his own assumption)
On March 25, 2014, Forbes journalist Andy Greenberg published an article on Dorian Nakamoto’s alleged neighbor, a pre-Bitcoin cryptographic pioneer named Hal Finney, who received the very first BTC transaction from Nakamoto.
Interestingly, Greenberg reached out to the writing analysis consultancy Juola & Associates and asked them to compare a sample of Finney’s writing to that of Satoshi Nakamoto. Reportedly, they found that it was the closest resemblance they had yet come across — including the other candidates suggested by Newsweek, Fast Company and New Yorker journalists, along with Ted Nelson and Skye Grey. However, the company established that Nakamoto’s emails to Finney more closely resemble the style that the original white paper was written in when compared to Finney’s emails.
Greenberg suggested that Finney may have been a ghostwriter for Nakamoto, or that he used his neighbor Dorian’s identity as cover. Finney denied he was Satoshi. Greenberg, after meeting Finney in person, seeing the email exchanges between him and Nakamoto, and his Bitcoin wallet’s history, concluded that Finney was telling the truth.
On Aug. 28, 2014, Hal Finney died at his home in Phoenix at the age of 58 after five years of battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Suspect credentials: a 48 year-old Australian computer scientist and businessman
Sources: Andy Greenberg, Gwern Branwen, Wired; Craig Wright (himself)
On Dec. 8, 2015, Wired published an article written by Andy Greenberg and Gwern Branwen that argued an Australian academic named Craig Steven Wright “either invented bitcoin or is a brilliant hoaxer who very badly wants us to believe he did.”
On the same day, Gizmodo ran a story that featured documents allegedly obtained by a hacker who broke into Wright’s email accounts, claiming that Satoshi Nakamoto was a joint pseudonym for Craig Steven Wright and his friend, computer forensics analyst and cyber-security expert David Kleiman, who died in 2013.
Wright promptly took down his online accounts and disappeared for several months until May 2, 2016, when he publicly declared that he is the creator of Bitcoin. Later on the same month, Wright published an apology along with a refusal to publish the proof of access to one of the earliest Bitcoin keys. Cointelegraph has published several articles on why Wright is most likely not Satoshi. Nevertheless, Wright continues to claim that he is Satoshi to this day.
In February 2018, the estate of Dave Kleiman filed a lawsuit against Wright over the rights to $5 billion worth of BTC, claiming that Wright defrauded Kleiman of virtual currency and intellectual property rights.
Neal King, Vladimir Oksman and Charles Bry
Suspects credentials: U.S. and German residents, occupancy and age unknown
Source: Adam Penenberg, Fast Company
In October 2013, journalist Adam Penenberg penned an article for Fast Company, where he cited circumstantial evidence suggesting that Neal King, Vladimir Oksman and Charles Bry could be Nakamoto. King and Bry reportedly live in Germany while Oksman was claimed to be based in the U.S.
Penenberg’s theory revolves around the claim that King, Oksman and Bry jointly filed a patent application that contained the phrase “computationally impractical to reverse” in August 2008, which was also used in the white paper published by Nakamoto in October that year. Moreover, the domain name bitcoin.org was registered three days after the patent was filed.
All three men denied being Nakamoto when contacted by Penenberg.
Suspect credentials: a 47 year-old American technology entrepreneur
Source: Sahil Gupta, SpaceX intern
In what seems as one of the most absurd Nakamoto theories to date, Sahil Gupta, who claims to be a former intern at SpaceX, wrote a Hacker Noon post speculating that Elon Musk was probably Satoshi Nakamoto. Gupta emphasized Elon Musk’s background in economics, experience in production-level software and history of innovation to speculate that Musk could have invented Bitcoin.
The post was published in November 2017 and was soon disproved by Musk himself, who tweeted that Gupta’s suggestion “is not true.”
While there is no actual evidence that Nakamoto is a government agency, it makes for a great conspiracy theory that contains a vast amount of reasons as to why the U.S. (or any other state) would want to create Bitcoin. For instance, a 2013 Motherboard article theorized: “Bitcoin could be used as a weapon against the US dollar. It could be used to fund black ops.”
It then suggested a theory “that Bitcoin is actually an Orwellian vehicle that would allow governments to monitor all financial transactions.”