Chapter 05

The Identity of Satoshi Nakamoto

Satoshi’s identity has been subject to various speculations and theories since the beginning of Bitcoin. Over many years, bloggers, researchers and journalists have tried to unveil the real identity behind this pseudonym, but no definitive proof has ever been presented. While his personal profile on the P2P Foundation page indicates that he is a 44 year old male from Japan, this is likely not to be true. The times of his postings, as well as English fluency cast serious doubt on his supposedly Japanese origin. Nonetheless, according to various interpretations of the nickname, Satoshi can be loosely translated as “inner” or “central,” and Nakamoto as “wisdom” or “intelligence”. Mystical indeed.

Among peers on the mailing lists, it was quite common to post anonymously. Satoshi knew the history of multiple e-money projects whose leaders ended up persecuted, so it made sense to avoid any possible legal implications by retaining a cloak of anonymity. Furthermore, some technologies behind different versions of e-money were patented, and even though Bitcoin’s infrastructure does not exhibit similarities with those technologies, being anonymous might have been a reasonable preemptive measure against potential patent-infringing accusations. As time passed by, his early-mined bitcoins appreciated in value significantly, adding yet another understandable reason to stay anonymous. It is worth noting, though, that he had decided to use the nickname to cover his identity long before he even released the codebase or the white paper.

From what we know during roughly two years of his online activity, he produced over 80,000 words of flawless English with very few typos, and mostly British spelling and phrases such as “bloody hard”. Of course, these hints could be just red herrings to cover his traces. In addition, there are roughly 31,000 lines of code. His coverage of topics ranging from the Austrian economists to commodity markets suggests that was very well versed in cryptography, Austrian Economics, peer-to-peer networking, and C++. From Nakamoto’s early conversations with Adam Back, we know that he was not aware of Dai’s b-money concept. From his subsequent conversations with Wei Dai, it seems he had not been aware of Bitgold either, and added them to the white paper bibliography only after he created the concept of Bitcoin.The same likely applies for Finney’s RPOW as well. These conversations suggest that Satoshi was an original thinker, as the only cryptographic concepts he was probably familiar with before creating Bitcoin (from those referenced in the white paper) were Back’s Hashcash and the time-stamping papers of Stornetta and Haber. That said, soon after their discovery, he publicly acknowledged these concepts and recognized Bitcoin as their extension. From some of his forum posts, we can deduce he was familiar with Digicash. Given this, and the size of the cryptographer community at the time, it is likely that a set of people possessing these skills could be narrowed down to a few hundreds of individuals. Naturally, all authors of the preceding concepts of digital cash have been hypothesized to be Satoshi Nakamoto. Similarities do exist.

For instance, Wei Dai has been known to be skilled in C++ development for Windows, and the first version of Bitcoin was released as an .exe file for Windows. This may seem uncommon as open source projects are usually released for Linux first. Some sources even conducted a four word sequence analysis to compare different developers and authors where Andresen, Dai and Finney ended up on top, meaning their posts and words exhibit the most similarity to the ones of Satoshi. While both Andresen and Finney communicated directly with Satoshi on the same forum, and to the same audience, the similarity of their words might be understandable. Samples for Dai’s data were collected from a different forum (LESSWRONG) and his posts were focused on different, non technical topics. That’s why his writing’s similarity to Satoshi’s appears to be deeper. However, as mentioned above, Satoshi did not seem to be aware of Dai’s work until notified by Adam Back shortly before the release of white paper. Nakamoto reached out to Dai in August 2008 via email:

I was very interested to read your b-money page. I'm getting ready to release a paper that expands on your ideas into a complete working system. Adam Back (hashcash.org) noticed the similarities and pointed me to your site.
I need to find out the year of publication of your b-money page for the citation in my paper. It'll look like: [1] W. Dai, "b-money," http://www.weidai.com/bmoney.txt, (2006?).
You can download a pre-release draft at http://www.upload.ae/file/6157/ecash-pdf.html Feel free to forward it to anyone else you think would be interested.
Title: Electronic Cash Without a Trusted Third Party
Abstract: A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without the burdens of going through a financial institution. Digital signatures. offer part of the solution, but the main benefits are lost if a trusted party is still required to prevent double-spending. We propose a solution to the double-spending problem using a peer-to-peer network. The network timestamps transactions by hashing them into an ongoing chain of hash-based proof-of-work, forming a record that cannot be changed without redoing the proof-of-work. The longest chain not only serves as proof of the sequence of events witnessed, but proof that it came from the largest pool of CPU power. As long as honest nodes control the most CPU power on the network, they can generate the longest chain and outpace any attackers. The network itself requires minimal structure. Messages are broadcasted on a best effort basis, and nodes can leave and rejoin the network at will, accepting the longest proof-of-work chain as proof of what happened while they were gone.

The email suggests that Nakamoto became familiar with b-money just shortly prior to reaching out to Dai. The estimated guess for the date of Dai’s work — 2006 — certainly implies that. This pre-release draft contains a number of differences compared to the white paper version that was presented to the world a few months later. It seems that Nakamoto came up with the name for Bitcoin some time between September and October 2008 because he referred to it simply just as “Electronic Cash” or “E-cash” as suggested in the file name he provided the link for. The abstract too is slightly different, as it contains a typo in the word “broadcasted” as well as different phrasing in some places. This pre-release draft of the paper is no longer available on the Internet Archive. Dai replied with just a few sentences with links to the initial announcement of the b-money project and the following discussions. Nakamoto wrote to Dai again shortly after he released the software and mined the genesis block in January 2009:

I wanted to let you know, I just released the full implementation of the paper I sent you a few months ago, Bitcoin v0.1. Details, download and screenshots are at www.bitcoin.org
I think it achieves nearly all the goals you set out to solve in your b-money paper.
The system is entirely decentralized, without any server or trusted parties. The network infrastructure can support a full range of escrow transactions and contracts, but for now the focus is on the basics of money and transactions...

If we assume that Wei Dai was Satoshi himself the question is — why would he fake these email conversations? When asked directly, Dai denied the theory of him being Nakamoto.

A similar yet somewhat different analysis of content-neutral expressions was performed on writings of Nick Szabo, too. The same authors analyzed word length distribution and character frequency distribution of Szabo as well as a few other authors including Adam Back, Hal Finney, Wei Dai, and David Chaum, and were convinced that Szabo was Satoshi. They also considered less convincing hints such as probable overlap in their time zones, and an inverse relationship in their forum activity. Interestingly, when Satoshi started to be active and posted about Bitcoin, Nick Szabo’s activity on the mailing list decreased. One of the facts alluding the connection between the two, that has been picked up by many people, was that Szabo apparently manipulated the timestamps of his discussions related to Bitgold. He changed them in a way that the discussions seem to happen just after the release of Bitcoin. While it may appear as a move to mask the relationship between the two concepts, it is more likely a practical gesture employed by Szabo to make the bitcoin relevant content look “more recent” for visitors of his web so it is easier to find. Nick Szabo, of course, denies being Satoshi Nakamoto.

Hal Finney had been very supportive of Bitcoin since the very beginning, and contributed to the codebase significantly himself. Just the sheer fact that he received the first ever transaction on the network directly from Satoshi made him a suspect for many. I already mentioned his cryptographic background and coding skills, as well as the connection to the Cypherpunks. He had met and extensively corresponded with both Wei Dai and Nick Szabo. But Finney was known not only for his high intellect, but also for highly developed emotional intelligence, also exhibited by Satoshi. Moreover, Finney was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in 2009 and his body began to fail him slowly. He disappeared from the scene at approximately the same time as Satoshi, until the fatal disease took its toll on him and he passed away in 2014. Another fact that makes his story quite interesting is that after his death, he was cryogenically frozen. Nonetheless, it seems unlikely that Finney would fake his conversations with Satoshi on the mailing list so early in the project when it was nothing but a paper and piece of code that no one knew about. Furthermore, he revealed his personal correspondence with Nakamoto to The Wall Street Journal in the spring of 2014, a few months before his death.

A sensation was discovered in 2014 when Newsweek magazine came up with a story of a man named Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto who coincidentally lived just a few blocks away from Hal Finney. Dorian Nakamoto was a system engineer, having previously worked for military contractors, and a libertarian. A herd of journalists immediately besieged his house and he received attention from around the world. It went so far that the “real” Satoshi Nakamoto, after more than three years of inactivity, posted on his profile on the P2P Foundation website with a simple message:

I am not Dorian Nakamoto

It should be mentioned that there is a likelihood that Nakamoto’s account credentials at the P2P Foundation page have been compromised, or perhaps, just passed to an entity known to Satoshi. Suspicion rose especially in November 2018 when the account in question posted again, this time with just a single word: "nour". Urban dictionary provides a definition of it that is probably more confusing in the context of the post:

The most loving, affectionate and caring person you’ll ever meet. Extremely smart, funny and sensitive. A bit lost, still figuring out what she wants in life and how to reach it. Stubborn and not willing to take other peoples advice. when she smiles she makes you forget all the problems you have, her hug will give you an assurance that you have never felt and will never do.

Multiple people have attempted to perform stylometric analysis in order to identify Satoshi’s identity. In 2017, entrepreneur and writer Alexander Muse released a blogpost in which he claimed that the NSA had successfully identified Satoshi Nakamoto by using stylometric analysis that allowed them to determine authorship of Nakamoto’s writings. Muse claimed that the analysis was successful mainly because of NSA’s proprietary software, the ability to access bulk emails through their surveillance efforts, and possession of a supercomputer. It should be noted that Muse did not provide evidence of this other than an "anonymous source".

In December 2015, parallel investigations by Wired and Gizmodo resulted in sensational revelations regarding Satoshi’s true identity. An anonymous resource provided them with materials that contained different email conversations and other files. According to the media, evidence pointed to Australian academic and serial entrepreneur Craig Wright. Allegedly hacked emails and other pieces of documentation suggested that Wright had been using an email address satoshi@vistomail.com that was known to belong to Nakamoto. Further documents contained PDF files with what appeared to be a transcript from Wright’s meetings with his attorneys and the Australian Taxation Office. Other emails from Wright, though from a different email address, suggested that he was writing to his friend and business partner David Kleiman about his latest project — a new form of electronic money:

I need your help editing a paper I am going to release later this year. I have been working on a new form of electronic money. Bit cash, Bitcoin…You are always there for me Dave. I want you to be a part of it all.

Apparently, Wright wanted Kleiman to be involved. Kleiman was a noted computer forensic expert who has been regularly featured at many expert conferences as well as competitions for different media. The two also authored a paper on “Overwriting Hard Drive Data” together in 2008. After this revelation hit the world, Wright stayed private for a few months and returned back on the scene in mid-2016 with a public announcement confirming that he is Satoshi Nakamoto and that he had been hiding because he did not have the courage to come out. Wright’s eccentric personality and conceited self-assurance did not really resonate with the perception the community had about Satoshi. A conference presentation during which he humbly mentioned that he has more money than all of Rwanda was just one of many manifestations of it. In another conference, he amazed the audience by having his assistant come on stage with a wheelbarrow full of his academic degrees — something he would not forget to casually mention in many instances. A few were convinced of the authenticity of the evidence proving Wright is Satoshi. He did manage, however, to persuade one of the early Bitcoin developers — Gavin Andresen — who publicly supported the claim and said he witnessed Wright signing a message with the private key of the Genesis block, the ultimate and only proof that is likely to be accepted by anyone.

I remind everyone, he is human. I’m sure he makes mistakes like we all do. He’s made some mistakes in the past. And he wants his privacy. So I’m going to draw a line. If you ask me questions about this, I draw the line at: I will explain why I’m convinced. I will not go into personal details of the discussion that I had with him.

Unfortunately, Wright has never demonstrated this in a public manner and Andresen’s words were too poor of evidence for the skeptical crypto community. By standing behind the claim, Andresen’s reputation fell into disgrace. Distrust in Wright deepened in 2017 when he joined Roger Ver in a stand against Bitcoin Core developers in the scaling debate. The two, along with Jihan Wu, co-founder of Bitmain, were the most prominent supporters of Bitcoin Cash, born on August 1, 2017. The alliance did not hold for long, and soon Wright decided to fork away once again. This time he branded a new cryptocurrency with a bold name — Bitcoin Satoshi Vision.

In the meantime, he sued Roger Ver as well as a podcaster Peter McCormack. But it was another lawsuit that drew the attention of the public. Wright was sued by Klemain’s brother in 2018. He was accused of defrauding over $11 billion worth of BTC and hard drives from David Kleiman who died in 2013. In 2014, almost a year after Kleiman was found dead in his apartment, Wright reached out to his father claiming he would provide him with more information about his deceased son while casually mentioning they both are one of three people behind Bitcoin. Kleiman’s brother took over the correspondence with Wright in the following months and received quite a few materials about the business ventures of his brother and Wright.Kleiman’s family was not aware of Kleiman being friends with Wright nor his involvement with Bitcoin prior to being contacted by Wright. Wright told them his version of the story about their early involvement with and the mining of Bitcoin. At some point, he also presented them with a few documents that transferred IP rights as well as something over a million bitcoins to Wright’s possession. This was when Kleiman’s family began to be suspicious.The purported story did not make sense and contained inconsistencies. It did seem that he forged the dates of the emails concerning the property transfer. If the emails were supposed to be written by Kleiman before his death in 2013, it was weird that the font used in the emails — Calibri — was copyrighted by Microsoft only in 2015. On multiple instances, Wright’s claims have been denounced by some of the parties involved or sometimes even proven wrong. While within the cryptocurrency world he has been called by many names, trustworthy was certainly not one invoked often. In an email to Kleiman’s brother, Wright wrote:

I have files of Dave’s that I cannot access now. These are TrueCrypt partitions. We held backups for the other, but no passwords. I cannot access these. If I cannot find a key or a password on these, I do not believe that I can on yours. Dave was smarter than I was in some ways. He broke his wallets into many 50 BTC sized addresses. I left several large addresses that are not easy to move without making the world notice.
Dave estate is only worth 12 million IF you want to cash out right now. IF you stay, you get the value AND the shares. I will list these in coming years and THEN they are worth more.
There is a trust as I noted. Less than 200 000 Bitcoin remain. We need 100 000 to make the bank idea work. I cannot touch these yet even if I want to. And right now I do. That stated, I will not move more now in any event. Dave held more and MtGox held some. I see both those sources as lost. Dave’s drives are a one day possible. Each year, it is possible to crack more than double the key length that was previously possible. What I know of Dave’s passwords places them at around 80 bits. We can expect them to be worth trying to crack in 10-12 years. Spending the next 5 years on this is going to cover 5-10% of the possibilities at a large cost. This is how crypto works.

Paradoxically, Wright’s claims that he hired Kleiman to "wipe" any tracks after his involvement with Bitcoin made many people believe that instead of him, Dave Kleiman could actually be the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto. Such an assumption was supported also by one of the early Bitcoin developers Jeff Garzik, who said:

It matches his coding style, this gentleman was self taught. And the Bitcoin coder was someone who was very, very smart, but not a classically trained software engineer.

The lawsuit between Kleiman’s brother Ira Kleiman and Wright has been ongoing since early 2018 and Wright has claimed that he is unable to access all the bitcoins mined from block 70 because he designed an algorithm that automated the key generation process and the bitcoins that were mined were sent directly to a so-called “blind trust” he and Kleiman had set up. Moreover, the private key needed to access those bitcoins had been split up into multiple shards via the “Shamir Secret Sharing Algorithm” and handed to multiple individuals included in the blind trust. Wright also claimed he does not know the public addresses where the mined bitcoins went because he did not keep any list or records. Even though he claimed to own the public addresses of bitcoins from the first 70 blocks, no message signed by the correspondent private key has been ever presented. It is no wonder that Wright’s story sometimes resembles more of a fabricated and clumsy construction than the truth.

One interesting fact casting suspicion on Wright’s claims can be found in Satoshi’s emails to Mike Hearn from 2011. When Hearn brought up that he read about the Electronic Funds Transfer Act that guaranteed reversal rights to US debit card holders, and asked Satoshi about his opinion on whether he thinks it could make Bitcoin illegal, Satoshi replied:

I am not a lawyer and I can't possibly answer that. I suppose if the law applies to a bank or financial institution or other intermediary, then it would not apply since there is no bank involved, only two parties trading directly with each other, as they would in person with cash or barter with physical commodities.

This proves interesting given that Craig Wright received a Master of Laws with commendation in International Commercial Law in 2008. I believe this strongly indicates that the person writing emails to Hearn using the address satoshin@gmx.com is not Craig Wright. Of course, this does not necessarily mean it is the same person who developed the code, even though an extensive knowledge of it demonstrated in the emails suggests so.

An interesting twist came in summer 2019. A new hint was tossed out in one of the documents with transcriptions from the case. In document 187, Wright claims that evidence that could support his claim to be Satoshi, and therefore to be the rightful owner of Satoshi’s stack, also contained sensitive information about his relationship and ties to criminals he helped land in jail. He asked the court to redact the names from the document as he was afraid that if this information leaked out, they would seek repercussions against him. As it turned out, whoever did redact the documents did not really do a proper job and forgot to remove one of the footnotes that most likely points out who is the alleged criminal in question — Paul Solotshi Calder Le Roux. Various theories about his involvement in the creation of Bitcoin emerged almost instantly. And they had some merits to them.Paul Solotshi Calder Le Roux shared with Satoshi more than a similar name. He was a brilliant programmer familiar with C++ who supposedly used similar spelling. Also, his employees reported that around 2011 he would disappear for long periods of time, until his arrest in 2012. He was known to be a criminal mastermind, cartel boss, arms dealer, and the creator of encryption softwares E4M and TrueCrypt. His writings on usenet had been known from the mid-1990s and he had an eventful life with a wide range of activities involving smuggling of precious metals, drug and arms trafficking, assassinations, money laundering, and software development. This sours his chance of allegedly being Satoshi. Multiple sources suggest that around 2009, Le Roux was establishing himself as a cartel boss with international operations. It is hard to imagine that he would have relentlessly worked on the Bitcoin software at the same time. Even though it is hard to decrypt how exactly each of the three had been involved, a certain level of his involvement, though, may be possible. Regardless of Le Roux’s involvement, the alternative where Wright and Kleiman possessed large quantities of Bitcoin seems viable. The existence of these encrypted private keys might not be far from reality either. Wright and his company, Cloudcroft have been boasting about their possession of some of the most powerful supercomputers on Earth, and some of his friends have been purportedly running large facilities with plenty of computation power (disguised as mining farms). It is not hard to imagine why someone would make efforts to concentrate such computing power around him. Especially if he has encrypted files to crack.

Many more theories have surfaced over the years. Some are more serious than others, but most of them are based merely on circumstantial evidence. The New Yorker reporter Joshua Davis wrote an extensive piece describing his quest to identify Satoshi in 2011. He searched for him at cryptographic conferences and found a few candidates he thought could be qualified enough to be the mysterious programmer. Vili Lehdonvirta, a Finnish professor at Helsinki Institute for Information Technology was one of them. A young graduate student of cryptography at Trinity College Michael Clear was another. While both felt honored by these suggestions neither of them claimed to be Nakamoto.

In 2013, the journalist Adam Penenberg published an article where he suggested three new candidates. The men in question were Neal King, Vladimir Oksman and Charles Bry. His theory revolved around the patent application they filed in the very same year Bitcoin was announced. All of them denied any relation to Bitcoin.One of the more absurd theories that went viral for some time was the one portraying Elon Musk as the inventor of Bitcoin. Musk’s background in tech and economics as well as a solid track record when it comes to innovative technologies served as the main, however poor, building stone for the theory. Musk denied such claims in his tweets in 2017.

The 2017 ICO frenzy lured in other adepts claiming to have created Bitcoin as just a rumor that would spur investment. Tim Draper, one of the most prominent Bitcoin investors and VCs, had become a key person in the rumored plans of the alleged Satoshi Nakamoto who reached out to him in order to plan an upcoming ICO for a brand new coin. Draper later tweeted that he “wasted” a lot of time with the alleged mastermind that eventually did not provide any tangible proof for the identity. The year 2019 also unearthed more wanna-be candidates. Debo Jurgen Etienne Guido made his claim in a letter filed with a federal courthouse on July 22, 2019. His attempt was eclipsed, however, with another event that started to draw attention just a few days later in August.A company named Satoshi Nakamoto Renaissance (SNR) Holdings announced their intention to reveal the real-life identity of Satoshi Nakamoto in three subsequent posts named “My Reveal”. The first was published on the 11th anniversary of registration of the bitcoin.org domain. The first post described parts of the history of Bitcoin along with the origin of Satoshi’s pseudonym, and some new memories from the alleged Nakamoto. The story purported to uncover the origin of the Bitcoin name — Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). According to the story, young Satoshi was supposedly influenced by the shut down of the bank in 1991 because of the money laundering scandals. While growing up, he became interested in cryptography, finance and numerology, and even researched Digicash for his dissertation. The story further elaborated on Satoshi’s struggles to open a bank account in the UK that resulted in his anger being channeled into the creation of Bitcoin that was supposed to be “a new Age digital bank”. This would have been done in collaboration with Hal Finney, to whom the post paid the tribute. Eventually, however, the announcement did not gain much traction as it fizzled out as most other claims of the same time period.

Nakamoto’s identity has, for many journalists, become a holy grail of investigating reporting. The public has been presented with all kinds of evidence that were supposed to back up various theories, but none of them involved the one and only that would resolve this riddle once and for all — a message signed by the Genesis key. Therefore, the long-standing mystery remains and time will show whether we will see the genesis block bitcoins move. Chances are that even if we will, it might not be by Satoshi.

Chapter 05