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The hunt for Satoshi Nakamoto: a brief history

The human; the myth; the legend – but who exactly is Satoshi Nakamoto?

By Wendy Clack

5 min read

The search for Satoshi Nakamoto has waged for years. PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash.

Is Bitcoin’s mysterious inventor just one person, or a whole team of programming experts? These questions plague journalists and crypto enthusiasts alike. And the suspect list has grown to more than a dozen people – including Elon Musk. Bitcoin is a decade old, and the hunt continues. Here’s what we know about the elusive Satoshi Nakamoto.

Bitcoin beginnings

 Way back in 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto published a paper called “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” A few months later, the Bitcoin software went live with code attributed to Nakamoto. The genesis block was mined, and soon the Bitcoin community started gaining traction. Nakamoto was active in the community until 2010 when control was given to US software developer Gavin Andresen.

 Then in 2011, Nakamoto wrote a final goodbye to the community and vanished.

 What we know about Satoshi Nakamoto

 Nakamoto is self-described as a Japanese national born in 1975. Though most say Nakamoto is male, no one knows the founder’s gender or if [he/she/it/they] acted alone.

What others say

 As Bitcoin gained popularity, the mystery of its creator proved irresistible to the media. The witch hunt began, with various outlets trying to reveal Nakamoto.

 2011: The New Yorker and Michael Clear, Vili Lehdonvirta

 One of the earliest media outlets to join the hunt was The New Yorker. Journalist Joshua Davis attended a seminal cryptography conference, expecting to find Satoshi Nakamoto among the elite group. He zoomed in on Michael Clear, a cryptography graduate student at Trinity College Dublin. Clear seemed to tick the boxes, but denied involvement.

Instead, he pointed the journalist to Vili Lehdonvirta, a Finnish researcher with keen interest in cryptocurrencies. Again, a firm denial.

 2011: Fast Company and King, Bry, and Oksman

 A journalist from Fast Company found that a line of text in Nakamoto’s paper matched a line in a patent application. That application was filed right before the domain bitcoin.org was registered.

So the journalist looked into the patent creators: Neal King, Vladimir Oksman, and Charles Bry. Once again, all denied with one claiming they had never heard of Bitcoin.

2013: Several outlets and Nick Szabo

 A decade before Bitcoin, there was a strikingly similar idea called Bit Gold. It was the brainchild of Nick Szabo, a computer scientist who explained several of the key features that now define how Bitcoin operates.

 Though multiple news outlets including the New York Times have pointed the finger at Szabo, he denies being Satoshi Nakamoto.

2014: Newsweek and Dorian S. Nakamoto

 Newsweek published an attention-grabbing exposé on Nakamoto, revealing the identity as Californian resident Dorian S. Nakamoto.

 The unemployed engineer strongly denied the claims, and even threatened to sue the press who swarmed him after the article was published. He was battling severe health challenges at the time, and was a caretaker for his 93-year old mother. After the article was discredited, the cryptocurrency community set up a Bitcoin fund in Dorian’s name as an act of generosity.

 Dorian cashed in a few years ago and pocketed six figures. Not too shabby for a case of mistaken identity. 

2014: Forbes and Hal Finney

 Forbes cast suspicion on Hal Finney, one of the early programmers involved in Bitcoin. Finney was the first person to ever receive bitcoin–sent by none other than Nakamoto.

 Finney also lived near Dorian Nakamoto, and the theory was that Finney adopted Nakamoto’s name as a pseudonym. No conclusive evidence was found.

2016: Craig Wright and David Kleiman

Of all the people on the suspect list, only one accused has claimed to be Satoshi. Australian Craig Wright’s identity confession was found in leaked transcripts.

Those were picked up by Wired, which ran a story about Wright. Throughout the story, Wright denies he is Satoshi Nakamoto, but later contacts the outlet and admits it’s all true.

Wired did some further digging and learned Wright made several untrue claims, suggesting it could all be an elaborate hoax. Gizmodo claimed that hacked emails and transcripts show Nakamoto is actually Wright working with analyst David Kleiman.

Though Kleiman passed away in 2013, several sources confirmed the pair’s involvement with digital currency. Wright has presented numerous pieces of evidence since then to prove he is Nakamoto. But most have been disputed.

2017: Hackernoon and Elon Musk

An article by Sahil Gupta on Hackernoon pointed to Elon Musk. After all, Musk has the technical chops and the mind of a brilliant inventor. Unfortunately, Musk responded with a tweet denying a double life as Nakamoto.

2018 and beyond

More names are added to the suspect list all the time. And some even add themselves – though 99% are soon outed as “Faketoshis”. The mystery behind Bitcoin’s founder will undoubtedly keep the media and crypto community on the hunt.

 But others ask if Nakamoto’s true identity really matters. To them, not knowing the founder’s true identity simply underscores the importance of trust-less systems.

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