There are many mysteries in the crypto sphere that puzzle even the most diligent online sleuths: What is the true story behind the fall of QuadrigaCX? Where are Tether’s billions? Where is Bitfinex’s real office? These questions have prompted crypto enthusiasts worldwide to put on their best Sherlock hats and throw themselves into research to find some satisfying answers. But the biggest and most enduring mystery of the cryptocurrency era remains stubbornly unsolved: Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?
Join us for a wild ride as we go over some of the best guesses the crypto community and journalists around the world came up with regarding the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto and just how much Bitcoin they actually have!
The Enigmatic Bitcoin Developer
The identity of the pseudonymous Bitcoin developer still eludes the public to this day, more than a decade after the launch of Bitcoin, the digital currency that would start a new era of digital finance.
Over the years, several journalists, experts, and crypto enthusiasts tried to unlock the mysteries regarding Satoshi Nakamoto with limited success. Only some questions about the inventor(s) seem to have (relatively) clear answers that can be backed by research, like how much Bitcoin Satoshi Nakamoto has, a question we’ll tackle a bit further in this article.
However, most of the other burning questions, including the one about the identity of the inventor and what they plan to do with their BTC can’t be answered with certainty. But a lack of certainty has never stopped crypto enthusiasts from speculating on the identity of the enigmatic inventor. There are ample theories about who stand(s) behind the world’s biggest cryptocurrency.
Some of these answers are mere shots in the dark, while some rely on more concrete data, but at their core, all these stories are built on varying mixes of circumstantial evidence, hunches, and a good dose of theorizing. The variety is fun because the quest for Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity is like a Rorschach test in some ways: everyone comes up with a different portrait of the inventor(s) depending on the assumptions they already hold about Bitcoin.
Before we explore some of the public’s favourite (and least favourite, depending on who you ask) Satoshi Nakamoto candidates, we will go over the history of Bitcoin and the (very little) information the public has on Satoshi Nakamoto.
How Did Satoshi Develop Bitcoin?
Sleuths have been trying to put together a timeline of early Bitcoin history in order to get more clues regarding the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto. Thanks to their efforts, we know that the domain name bitcoin.org was registered in August 2008, a few months before Satoshi Nakamoto released the Bitcoin whitepaper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”.
Nakamoto first wrote about Bitcoin on the famous Cypherpunks mailing list in November 2008. Other members of the Cypherpunks cryptography mailing list responded to Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin proposal with their own suggestions and criticism. These early emails reveal how the pseudonymous inventor collaborated with the other correspondents.
For instance, Nakamoto corresponded with Wei Dai – the inventor of B-Money – and Adam Back – the founder of Hashcash – and their innovative solutions were included in the Bitcoin whitepaper. He also exchanged ideas about Bitcoin’s early code with fellow cryptography enthusiasts Hal Finney, Ray Dillinger and James A. Donald.
Nakamoto launched Bitcoin in January 2009 on the open-source SoulForge repository and alerted Finney and other cypherpunks. The first block, the Genesis block as it was called, was signed by Satoshi Nakamoto with a special message: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on the brink of second bailout for banks”. The message referred to the headline of the UK newspaper The Times.
Hal Finney and Satoshi Nakamoto continued to work on Bitcoin, and on January 11, Satoshi Nakamoto executed the first-ever Bitcoin transfer by sending 10 BTC to Hal Finney.
The Bitcoin community continued to grow after that, with others joining the project. Bitcointalk Forum became the first crypto hub where different discussions about various facets of the Bitcoin project (its code, politics, economy, etc.) would be discussed by the early adopters and enthusiasts.
Satoshi Nakamoto’s Disappearance
In 2010, Satoshi Nakamoto withdrew from the Bitcoin project after delegating Bitcoin-related domains and its source code repository among other interested parties. Gavin Andresen, who had created the first-ever Bitcoin faucet, became the lead developer for Bitcoin.
Unsurprisingly, the disappearance of the inventor from the project is as mysterious as their real identity. In December 2010, Nakamoto posted on the Bitcointalk Forum for the last time, announcing the latest Bitcoin software update. Since that was the last public message they signed on the forum, all we know about their disappearance comes from people who have communicated with Satoshi Nakamoto through emails.
Satoshi Nakamoto seems to have continued his correspondence with other developers at least until April 2011. Mike Hearn released his correspondence with Satoshi Nakamoto, in which the pseudonymous Bitcoin founder claims he has moved on from Bitcoin: “I’ve moved on to other things. It’s in good hands with Gavin and everyone”.
Gavin Andresen, a former Bitcoin lead developer, also published the last emails between himself and the mysterious Bitcoin founder, exchanged on April 26, 2011. According to Andresen’s emails, Satoshi Nakamoto asked Andresen to stop talking about themselves (Satoshi Nakamoto) as a “shadowy figure” and instead discuss Bitcoin as an open-source project so that Bitcoin can avoid being labelled as a “pirate currency” by the press. The Bitcoin inventor also sent Andresen the cryptographic key to the Bitcoin network’s alert system, which had only been used by Satoshi Nakamoto up until that point.
According to Andresen, he replied to Satoshi Nakamoto’s last email by outlining his plans to attend a conference for the CIA to talk about Bitcoin. When interviewed, Andresen said that he didn’t hear anything else from Satoshi Nakamoto since and that his decision to talk to the CIA might have spooked the founder into the shadows.
How Many BTC Does Satoshi Nakamoto Own?
While the identity behind the name Satoshi Nakamoto remains unknown, the Bitcoin community managed to answer one of the linked mysteries: just how much Bitcoin does the elusive inventor hold?
According to the cryptocurrency researcher Sergio Lerner’s analysis, Satoshi Nakamoto owns between 750,000 and 1,100,000 BTC. Lerner dove into the open-source blockchain data in order to track the Bitcoin blocks mined by Satoshi Nakamoto between January 1, 2009, and January 25, 2010. While other nodes were mining alongside Satoshi from the very start, Nakamoto was doubtlessly the main miner. According to Lerner’s analysis, a single mining rig was responsible for most of the blocks on the blockchain during that first year. The wallets that were connected to the mining rig collected around 1 million BTC during that time frame.
Lerner dubbed Satoshi Nakamoto’s mining activity in the network as the “Patoshi Pattern”. He adjusted his earlier estimates in a follow-up piece published in 2019 and claimed Satoshi Nakamoto mined around 22,000 blocks and collected around 1.1 million BTC in total. Other research published by fellow Bitcoin sleuths seems to confirm Lerner’s conclusions and the general consensus around the community is that Satoshi has at least 1 million bitcoins.
That said, other researchers have also pointed out that Satoshi Nakamoto curbed their own hashing power at some point to let other nodes validate more blocks.
What Happened to Satoshi Nakamoto’s BTC?
So it appears that Satoshi Nakamoto collected at least 1 million BTC in the early years of the Bitcoin era. That brings us to the next part of the mystery: What happened to all the BTC Satoshi Nakamoto mined after they mysteriously vanished?
Well, not much. In fact, not a single Bitcoin seems to have left the original wallet ever since Satoshi Nakamoto disappeared from the Bitcoin community and the public eye at large. There have been rumours over the years about Satoshi Nakamoto moving bitcoins, but they were debunked every time. Usually, the Bitcoin in question had been in some other wallet that wasn’t a part of the Patoshi pattern, belonging to Bitcoin wallets of other early adopters.
For some people, this constitutes an even bigger mystery than the pseudonymous creator’s identity: How could anyone resist cashing out at least some of those bitcoins when the asset’s price skyrocketed in recent years? Considering the price of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto could be a billionaire if they were to sell their assets. And, of course, another question emerges at its heels: What will happen if Satoshi Nakamoto tries to cash out their 1 million BTC?
Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto?
As we’ve explained so far, there is very little proof about who hides behind the name of Satoshi Nakamoto. Even the name itself is now believed to be a red herring of sorts, designed to lead the onlookers to a false start.
In the early days of the Satoshi mystery, it was assumed that Satoshi Nakamoto was a man with Japanese ancestry, who was likely British due to his use of continental language and the fact that the Genesis block quoted the UK’s The Times.
Other clues were pieced together painstakingly from many sources: Some fine-combed all the published (and unpublished) Satoshi emails, others analysed the timing of their network activity and timestamps of their Bitcointalk forums posts to find where they lived, some used their expertise in linguistics to ascertain which is the most likely candidate. However, indisputable proof never came, leaving the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto a mystery.
In the following part of the article, we’ll take a look at some of the people who were/are regarded as the pseudonymous inventor Satoshi Nakamoto.
Let us start with our “who is Satoshi Nakamoto” journey with an unlikely candidate whose picture nonetheless comes up every time someone googles Satoshi Nakamoto. Dorian Nakamoto, received a disproportionate amount of attention from the Bitcoin community and the public at large after a Newsweek cover story announced that he was the real Bitcoin creator.
In 2014, a Newsweek journalist wrote an expose on Dorian Nakamoto, a 64-year-old engineer, and programmer who lived in a small suburb in Los Angeles, claiming that he was the elusive Satoshi Nakamoto. The story quickly made rounds on the internet, and Nakamoto’s family house, which was foreclosed by the bank, attracted reporters trying to get a statement from Dorian Nakamoto about Bitcoin. But Dorian Nakamoto vehemently denied being Satoshi, and stated that he misunderstood the journalists’ questions: he thought they were related to his classified engineering work.
After Dorian Nakamoto asked to be left alone by the Bitcoin crowd in an interview with Associated Press, Satoshi Nakamoto’s account left a comment on the Satoshi Nakamoto foundation website that read: “I am not Dorian Nakamoto.” This is generally accepted as the last true message from Satoshi Nakamoto, as the account would appear to be hacked a couple of months later, igniting another round of the “who is Satoshi Nakamoto” mystery.
Hal Finney, a computer scientist who had been interested in cryptocurrencies for years, was an early Bitcoin adopter who was known to help Satoshi Nakamoto debug Bitcoin code in the early days of Bitcoin. He was, in fact, the recipient of the world’s first Bitcoin transaction: Satoshi Nakamoto sent him 10 BTC. Because of his close involvement with Bitcoin, Hal Finney remained (and for some still remains) a liable candidate for Satoshi Nakamoto.
The journalist Andy Greenberg thought so as well, at least until his research led him right to Hal Finney and he got to meet the man himself.
Greenberg, too, was alerted to the possibility that Hal Finney might be the man behind Bitcoin when an anonymous tip alerted him to the fact that Hal Finney lived only a few blocks from Dorian Nakamoto, who had been named Satoshi Nakamoto by the Newsweek article. Only 36,000 people lived in the small Los Angeles suburb Dorian Nakamoto resided in, and it seemed too much of a coincidence that one of the earliest Bitcoin adopters was the neighbour of the man who supposedly founded Bitcoin.
Hal Finney had developed his own Reusable Proof of Work system based on Adam Back’s Hashcash, much like Bitcoin’s Proof-of-Work. He had been retired from his official job in 2011 due to the onset of ALS disease that left him paralysed until his death in 2014. Satoshi Nakamoto also left Bitcoin around 2010, suggesting a parallel between two timelines.
Back when Bitcoin enthusiasts took up linguistic analysis to identify the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, Wei Dai, an elusive computer engineer who developed the Crypto++ cryptographic library, seemed like a likely candidate for Satoshi Nakamoto.
Wei Dai is known for B-Money, a proposal for an electronic cash system that he outlined back in 1998 in a paper sent to the Cypherpunks mailing list. The B-Money proposal included descriptions of Proof of Work and Proof of Stake consensus mechanisms, as well as how the community would be rewarded for verifying transactions, much like Bitcoin now does.
Satoshi Nakamoto emailed Wei Dai before the publication of the Bitcoin whitepaper and once the Bitcoin network was up and running in order to ask him for citation information and to notify Wei Dai about Bitcoin. According to those emails, Satoshi Nakamoto was directed to Wei Dai’s work through Adam Back of HashCash.
In 2017, Michael Chon and fellow researchers compiled a stylometric analysis of possible Satoshi Nakamoto candidates, which included Wei Dai, along with Hal Finney, Nick Szabo, Ian Grigg, and Timothy May. According to the analysis, Wei Dai’s writings resembled the Bitcoin paper more than any others.
His expertise in C++, the programming language Bitcoin is written in, also makes him a viable candidate. Wei Dai, who has very little online presence and remains a quite elusive figure himself, rejected the claims that he was the inventor of Bitcoin.
Nick Szabo is another popular Satoshi Nakamoto suspect. He was, in fact, named the creator of Bitcoin in a New York Times article published in 2015 written by Nathaniel Popper.
The New York Times article pointed out that Nick Szabo had designs for a cryptocurrency named Bitgold ever since the late ’90s and he even wrote about starting to write its code back in 2008, a few months before the Bitcoin whitepaper was published. More suspiciously, Szabo later on changed the date of the post to seem as if it was written after the Bitcoin whitepaper came out.
Szabo’s Bitgold idea closely resembled Bitcoin both in content and form. Szabo’s conceptualisation of Bitgold involved peer-to-peer blockchain transactions as well as a PoW validation system similar to the one used in Bitcoin. Szabo had worked for David Chaum’s DigiCash, the first-ever electronic money company that went under business in 1998.
According to text analysis by Dominic Frisby, author of Bitcoin: The Future of Money, Szabo’s writing style also has similarities with Satoshi Nakamoto.
Szabo was an active member of the Cypherpunk email list and talked about smart contracts before Ethereum and the virtual currency Ether emerged in the cyberspace. He is also a strong and, at times, vitriolic proponent of libertarianism. Szabo denies the claims that he is Satoshi Nakamoto.
While all other candidates vehemently denied being Satoshi Nakamoto, Craig Wright does everything he can to convince the public he is actually the creator of Bitcoin – with the exception of providing solid proof that he is indeed Satoshi.
In the cyberspace, some people’s favourite Satoshi Nakamoto candidates are others’ least favourite. Craig Wright, an Australian businessman who proclaims he is Satoshi Nakamoto, definitely managed to evoke strong feelings within the Bitcoin community. Some people think he is running a long hoax, while others are convinced that he is really the creator of Bitcoin.
The Craig Wright saga is a bit sordid, likely because it still continues as Wright insists that he is, in fact, Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto. But it all started when Wired published a story about Wright claiming “either Wright invented Bitcoin, or he’s a brilliant hoaxer who very badly wants us to believe he did”.
When Gavin Andresen, former lead Bitcoin developer, wrote on his blog that Craig Wright proved him he was the elusive Bitcoin inventor in private, it seemed like it was all true. But then, Wright couldn’t provide the same proof publicly, leading many to theorize he had been able to dupe Andresen with tricks. Andresen balked after the flimsy evidence and described what really went down between the closed doors meeting with Craig Wright in an interview with Wired.
Instead of providing cryptographic proof and failing to secure the alliance of Bitcoin developers in order to back his claim to being the creator of Bitcoin, Craig Wright decided to take another route: He obtained a copyright license for Bitcoin’ white paper under US copyright laws, claiming government agencies recognized him as the inventor of Bitcoin. However, The Copyright Office released a statement that the office doesn’t investigate and confirm such claims. Craig Wright also made headlines as Satoshi Nakamoto in 2021, after news of a trial between him and his old partner was misconstrued by his representatives as a trial over Bitcoin’s actual founder.
A Few Final Words…
The mystery of the Bitcoin creator’s true identity will continue as long as we don’t have any solid evidence. That evidence lies with Satoshi Nakamoto’s private keys to the Bitcoin blockchain, so unless Bitcoin inventor(s) come forward of their own volition, it’s unlikely that we will have a definite answer.
Perhaps the more pressing question should be why Satoshi Nakamoto chooses to remain pseudonymous? Are they choosing anonymity so that the crypto asset can grow properly as a decentralized open-source project? Is it because there is more than one person behind the name and they couldn’t agree on coming forward? Or is it simply because they have lost their private keys? In any case, Satoshi Nakamoto’s mysterious identity has become a staple of Bitcoin lore at this point, and whether or not the inventor will one day claim their 1 million BTC remains to be seen.