Has the mysterious inventor of the bitcoin and blockchain technologies finally been identified?
On Tuesday, both Wired.com and Gizmodo.com.au published lengthy investigative pieces in which they claim that 44-year-old Australian academic Craig Steven Wright Ipictured) is the real-life figure behind Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous entity that gave birth to the bitcoin phenomenon in 2009.
This isn’t the first time that media bloodhounds have claimed to have run the elusive Nakamoto to ground. The most notorious example of these was Newsweek’s 2014 ‘scoop’ that incorrectly fingered a Japanese-American born with the same name who ultimately denied having anything to do with cryptocurrency, let alone bitcoin.
Clearly not wishing to join Newsweek in the media hall of shame, Wired does allow for the possibility that Wright is “a brilliant hoaxer who very badly wants us to believe” that he’s Nakamoto. But both Wired and Gizmodo have amassed a sufficiently large body of evidence to suggest they had justification for clicking ‘publish.’
NO, I’M SPARTACUS!
The evidence includes a number of posts on Wright’s personal blog, including one in August 2008 in which he announced his intention to release a “cryptocurrency paper.” The official bitcoin whitepaper made its debut on a cryptography mailing list that November.
Another blog post from November 2008 asks readers to contact Wright using a PGP encryption key that was later linked to the firstname.lastname@example.org email address, which is remarkably similar to the email@example.com address Nakamoto used to mail the whitepaper to the cryptography mailing list. Another blog post has Wright announcing Bitcoin’s beta launch the day before it happened.
A liquidation report on Hotwire, a Wright-founded company that attempted to create a bitcoin-based bank, lists Wright as having backed the company in June 2013 with $23m in bitcoin, a sum representing 1.5% of all bitcoins then in existence, which only a very early bitcoin adopter could have mined.
There’s also a transcript of a 2014 meeting with Wright and Australian tax officials in which Wright fesses up to having been “running bitcoin since 2009.” Gizmodo received confirmation from some of Wright’s former associates that the meeting did indeed take place.
Wired eventually reaches out to Wright, only to receive a series of cryptic emails from an IP address in Panama linked to the same Vistomail service used by Nakamoto to unleash his creation upon the world. The messages are coy, with one suggesting Wired seems “to know a few things. More than you should.” Shortly after that, the messages stop entirely.
1.1M BITCOIN BUYS A LOT OF TULIPS
Gizmodo also put Wright and now deceased American computer forensics expert Dave Kleiman at bitcoin’s ground zero after receiving a stash of allegedly hacked emails from a person claiming to have worked for Nakamoto. The emails include at least one from the firstname.lastname@example.org address but signed by “Craig” and listing Wright’s telephone number.
Other emails between Wright and Kleiman show Wright appearing to tire of his Nakamoto persona, saying the bitcoin community “no longer listen. I am better as a myth.”
Both Wired and Gizmodo tie Wright and Kleiman to the mysterious Tulip Trust, the stash of 1.1m bitcoins – the largest such hoard in existence – that hasn’t been touched since bitcoin’s debut.
Gizmodo received an incomplete draft of a legal contract in which the trust is to be managed by five PGP keys – with one each owned by Wright and Kleiman, and two owned by Nakamoto. The trust is to expire on Jan. 1, 2020, after which its contents will be repaid to Wright.
So what to make of this? Wired noted that the incriminating references in all three Wright blog posts appear to have been edited into the text sometime in 2013. Wired leaves it up to the reader to determine whether this is evidence of a hoax, an attempt to falsely claim Nakamoto’s credit or an elaborate effort by an admittedly odd character to out himself.