The Legend of Satoshi Nakamoto – Part 2
This piece is the second in our 3-part series on Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin.
In part 1 we provided an introduction to Satoshi and why he is so revered, and in part 2 we look at the top Satoshi Nakamoto candidates, including the evidence for and against them.
If you aren’t aware of the legend of Satoshi Nakamoto and why people are so keen to find out who he is, we suggest you read part 1 before reading this one.
On paper, Hal Finney has one of the strongest claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto.
A Caltech alumnus, Finney was one of the very first cypherpunks, joining the mailing list in the early 1990s, and also worked at the PGP Corporation.
His cypherpunk postings show the same distinctly libertarain leanings as Satoshi Nakamoto, but then the same could have been said for many of the others on the mailing list before and since.
Not everyone on the list could claim to have created the Reusable Proof-of-Work (RPOW) digital cash system however, which Finney did in 2004.
This is particularly important because RPOW is the foundation on which Bitcoin is built, which for many represents the biggest clue that Finney created Bitcoin.
Finney was one of the few individuals who read the Bitcoin whitepaper and recognized its potential over the previous failed versions of digital money.
He worked with Satoshi to build the protocol up into a public version in just a few weeks, suggesting bug fixes over email.
Crucially, Finney was the first person in the world to receive Bitcoin, which Nakamoto sent him on January 12, 2009, two days after Finney became the first person in the world to publicly acknowledge that the Bitcoin blockchain was operational.
Finney was also based in Temple City, San Francisco, the same city that Satoshi Nakamoto is thought to have resided in.
Interestingly, Dorian Nakamoto, the subject of a misguided 2014 Newsweek investigation, also lived in Temple City, a link that many have found too much of a coincidence to ignore.
A report from Forbes’ Andy Greenberg, published in March 2014, found that Finney’s writing “was as fluid and precise as the whitepaper that first introduced Bitcoin in late 2008”, something that certainly can’t be said of all the candidates.
Finney’s cryptographic background, his writing style, his political leanings, his geographical location, and his early exposure to Bitcoin have certainly put Finney in a strong position, and he has a huge army of supporters who believe he created Bitcoin rather than just developing it after the whitepaper was published.
However, while Greenberg’s investigation added some fuel to the fire, it also then doused the entire thing in cold water.
Greenberg’s interactions with Finney as well as his wife and son helped to convince him that Finney was not hiding Bitcoin’s biggest secret, corroborated by a first hand look at email exchanges between Finney and Satoshi from 2009 as well as the 2009 bitcoin transfer.
Greenberg concluded that “the notion that Finney alone might have set up the two accounts and created a fake conversation with himself to throw off snoops like me, long before Bitcoin had any measurable value, seemed preposterous.”
Finney, who always denied being Satsohi Nakamoto, died just five months after the publication of Greenberg’s piece, but there are still plenty who don’t buy his denials.
Finney’s body is cryo-preserved at a facility in Arizona, so perhaps in a few hundred years we will be able to bring him out of his cryo-sleep and bug him about it once more.
Nick Szabo is a social media favorite when it comes to Satoshi Nakamoto candidates.
He has a much stronger backing than many other candidates, but does the evidence do these claims justice?
Szabo is a computer engineer and legal scholar who is credited with pioneering the concept of smart contracts in 1996.
In 1998 Szabo created Bit gold, which is seen by some as a direct precursor to Bitcoin.
The comparison is indeed compelling – participants would dedicate computer power to solving cryptographic puzzles, with the solved puzzles being assigned to the public key of the solver.
In 2005 Szabo published a blog post which explained his concept in more detail, which included the following summary:
“…all money mankind has ever used has been insecure in one way or another. This insecurity has been manifested in a wide variety of ways, from counterfeiting to theft, but the most pernicious of which has probably been inflation. Bit gold may provide us with a money of unprecedented security from these dangers.”
As many have pointed out, he really could be talking about Bitcoin, two years before it was first dreamt up.
Intriguingly, Szabo included in this piece an explanation of how Hal Finney’s RPOW could be used to power the network.
Just over three years later, Bitcoin would launch using that exact protocol.
Szabo is not known to have openly helped develop Bitcoin, but he has worked for Bitcoin-related entities in the past, leaving many colleagues in no doubt that he certainly had the capacity to have created Bitcoin.
Szabo also has a number of public supporters of his candidacy.
Author Dominic Frisby made the case for Szabo in his 2014 book Bitcoin: The Future of Money?, citing the work of a group of forensic linguistics experts from Aston University who the same year found an “uncanny” match between Szabo’s writing style and that of Satoshi.
Nathaniel Popper of the New York Times also pegged Szabo as the most likely Satoshi Nakamoto candidate in a May 2015 piece.
Szabo, needless to say, has always denied that he created Bitcoin, including directly to Frisby and Popper. However, he still remains a favorite among the Bitcoin public for the crown.
Shinichi Mochizuki was put forward as a potential Satoshi Nakamoto candidate in 2013 by award-winning technology pioneer Ted Nelson, but still remains a lesser-known candidate.
Mochizuki, currently serving as a mathematics professor at Kyoto University, Japan, is however revered in the world of mathematics and clearly possesses the intellectual chops to be Bitcoin’s creator (the name and nationality doesn’t harm his case, either).
Nelson calls Mochizuki a “Newton-level genius”, while Wired magazine has described him as “a mathematician with a track record of solving hard problems and a reputation for careful attention to detail.”
His English is perfect, Nelson says, and he could certainly have had the creativity to pull the various elements of Bitcoin together to create it.
Alongside having the ability to create Bitcoin, Mochizuki fits the profile in other ways.
Unlike other Satoshi candidates he doesn’t seek the limelight or publicize his work, preferring instead to adopt what Nelson calls a “Lone Ranger delivery”; in 2012 he produced four revolutionary mathematical papers and simply left them for others to decipher.
Once their genius was recognized, rather than claiming credit for their principles or boasting about how clever he was, Mochizuki simply moved onto other projects.
This sounds very familiar.
Where the case for Mochizuki falls down however is with the evidence – there is none.
He has never mentioned Bitcoin, at least publicly, and he is not known to have any coding experience.
Nelson himself notes that there is no physical evidence to back up his claim, although he says that all available evidence points to Mochizuki.
While there may be something very ‘right’ about a quiet, retiring Japanese mathematician being Satoshi Nakamoto, we need a little more hard evidence before we can link him to the pseudonym.
Craig Wright is unique in that he is the only person on our list who has actually claimed to be Satoshi Nakamoto, yet the fact that he is not considered a worthy candidate by most in the Bitcoin community tells you all you need to know about those claims.
Wright is a divisive figure who helped Bitcoin fork into Bitcoin cash in 2018 and then again into Bitcoin SV in 2019, and has gone on to great lengths to try and prove his candidacy, including several court cases.
Wright first privately claimed to have created Bitcoin, alongside his business partner Dave Kleiman and one other person, in 2014, before being ‘outed’ by Wired and Gizmodo magazines in 2015.
However, much of the material supporting the claims was found to be fraudulent and sourced back to Wright himself.
In 2016 he tried to prove he was Satoshi by undergoing some very public signing sessions involving early Bitcoin blocks, but these were retrospectively proved to be almost certainly fraudulent.
Wright has since taken several people to court who said he wasn’t Satoshi Nakamoto as well as trying to claim copyright of the Bitcoin whitepaper.
Many of these cases have been lost or have expired, but Wright continues to try and legally enforce his claim to be Bitcoin’s creator with the remaining ones.
The reason Wright is so desperate to be considered as Satoshi Nakamoto seems to be because his entire Bitcoin SV proposition (not to mention millions of dollars in loans he needs to pay back) rely on it.
When it comes to evidence, Wright has offered plenty of written material to support his claims, but huge swatches of it have been proven to be fraudulent, in court as well as in public.
In fact, more than one judge has accused Wright of perjuring himself on the stand or otherwise lying before the court.
Wright is considered by most in the Bitcoin space to be a loud-mouthed bully who is only interested in the Satoshi Nakamoto and Bitcoin names for financial reasons, hence his recourse to legal means to achieve this.
Wright’s claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto are only truly believed by those in his inner circle whom he continues to brainwash, while the bulk of the Bitcoin community now discounts his claims.
Paul Le Roux
Paul Le Roux is a very interesting case, and one who gives Satoshi Nakamoto a very different image to the accepted personality of the quiet, studious, reserved individual.
Le Roux is a 48-year-old former cartel boss, arms dealer, drug smuggler, and DEA informant who is currently serving a 25-year sentence for a raft of crimes ranging from drug trafficking to selling technology and weapons to Iran.
Such a background may not seem like the CV of a programming genius who gave the world the first fully functioning digital currency, but you’d be wrong – long before Le Roux made his money arranging arms deals with Somali and Iranian gangs, carrying out mock executions on staff, and smuggling gold from the Philippines, he created encryption software E4M and TrueCrypt, programs likely used by Satoshi Nakamoto to lock up his bitcoin fortune.
The brilliant programmer with an anarchistic streak left the world of programming in 2011 around the same time as Satoshi Nakamoto’s last post on BitcoinTalk, adding further fuel to the fire.
For a tough customer, Le Roux is certainly educated and well spoken, and his writing style fits with Satoshi Nakamoto’s.
He is thought to be the author of a 2002 forum post that called for “a future with virtual peer to peer banking”, a post that included the following statement:
“Gone would be the times that governments and banks can track and interfere with our money transfers. Or even interfere with the total amount of money on earth. My envisioned sytem (sic) would have a fixed total amount of money. But each money unit (say virtual coin) is divisable (sic) indefinitely. So a kind of deflation would replace inflation. The total value of the money in the world would be a fixed number. It poses no problem for liquidity, because the currency can be divided anytime. However maybe people will not spend their money much, because it’s value will increase often.”
Le Roux was virtually unheard of in the cryptocurrency space until his name was mentioned in a Craig Wright lawsuit in 2019 where his own pseudonym, Paul Solotshi, his history as a coder and creator of E4M and TrueCrypt, and his identification as a libertarian advocate were unveiled.
The Zimbabwean, who was arrested in 2012 on drugs charges, turned state’s witness and worked with US authorities in a seven-year sting operation to bring down his accomplices.
Le Roux’s further links to Bitcoin came when he wrote a letter to his 2019 sentencing judge Ronnie Abrams to plead for clemency, apologizing for his actions and stating his plans for life on the outside, which primarily involved starting a business “selling and hosting bitcoin miners”.
These miners, he claimed, would use a custom chip design that would mine Bitcoin “at an order of magnitude faster” than those currently available.
This and other circumstantial evidence looks good for Le Roux to be considered as Bitcoin’s creator, but once more it is the lack of material evidence that is the problem in his case.
Wired writer Evan Ratliff looked into Le Roux’s background and found it an uncompelling case:
“In 2019 I examined the argument for Le Roux as Satoshi and found that while his biography made him a compelling possibility, there was no direct evidence to substantiate it.”
This, of course, doesn’t rule out Le Roux as Bitcoin’s creator, but without material evidence it’s hard to take his case any further.
Will The Real Satoshi Ever Stand Up?
Alongside these 4 there are several other candidates who frequently pop up when the question of who Satoshi is gets raised.
These honorable mentions include Adam Back, the creator of Hashcash, a similar system to the one used in Bitcoin; Ian Grigg, a cryptographer who helped to pioneer the triple-entry bookkeeping process included in blockchain technology; Wei Dai, whose digital cash effort ‘b money’ is cited in the Bitcoin whitepaper; and Dave Kleiman, business partner of Craig Wright and therefore alleged co-creator.
While every Satoshi Nakamoto candidate we discussed here has some circumstantial evidence linking them to the title of Bitcoin’s creator, there is something that binds all of them together – none of them has anywhere near enough material evidence.
The real Satoshi Nakamoto kept his real identity so well hidden that even a hack into his email system in 2014 didn’t reveal his identity.
With all emails and any other such identifying information likely long gone by now, it is up to the real Satoshi Nakamoto to stand up and declare it if we are ever going to know the truth.
However, if 13 years and massive worldwide adoption hasn’t been enough for Satoshi to come forward, at this point it is highly unlikely that he ever will now.
In part 3 we will look at why our inability to pinpoint Satoshi’s identity is rapidly losing its importance and, given that he clearly doesn’t want to be found, whether it’s finally time to stop looking for him.