Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?
That's a question that's loomed over Bitcoin long before it hit triple-digit exchange rates (one Bitcoin is, at the moment, worth over $450). It was the appearance of Nakamoto's white paper in 2008, outlining how Bitcoin could work, which paved the way for the cryptocurrency to exist. As for Satoshi Nakamoto him- or herself, the name was simply a pseudonym. Journalists at Wired, Newsweek and the New Yorker all tried their hands at pulling off Nakamoto's mask — to limited success.
Now, a 45-year-old Australian named Craig Steven Wright has stepped forward to The Economist, BBC and GQ-UK magazine, and on his own blog attempting to set the record straight once and for all. "I was the main part of it, but other people helped me," he told the BBC. Wired and Gizmodo had previously investigated Wright and came to the same conclusion — that Wright played a critical role.
BBC reports that Wright "provided technical proof to back up his claim." The Economist took a more skeptical path. Wright has the possession of certain digital keys that only Nakamoto would have, though the magazine said it did not have enough time to independently verify the key's verisimilitude. "Our conclusion is that Mr Wright could well be Mr Nakamoto, but that important questions remain," the Economist wrote. "Indeed, it may never be possible to establish beyond reasonable doubt who really created bitcoin."
The open source software for Bitcoin, which allows users to make online transactions anonymously and without going through banks or other financial institutions, was released in 2009. It started out more resembling monopoly money than real currency — people would trade the "coins" (really just lines of code) for favors or even give them away. But as the exotic system gained popularity, it gained value.
Now anyone — tech nerds, central bank-averse Libertarians, criminals — can use bitcoins for anything from ordering pizza to trafficking drugs. Their value fluctuates wildly.
The BBC quoted a blog post by Gavin Andresen, chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation, in support of the claim:
"I believe Craig Steven Wright is the person who invented Bitcoin," Andresen wrote.
"I was flown to London to meet Dr. Wright a couple of weeks ago, after an initial email conversation convinced me that there was a very good chance he was the same person I'd communicated with in 2010 and early 2011. After spending time with him I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt: Craig Wright is Satoshi.
"Part of that time was spent on a careful cryptographic verification of messages signed with keys that only Satoshi should possess. But even before I witnessed the keys signed and then verified on a clean computer that could not have been tampered with, I was reasonably certain I was sitting next to the Father of Bitcoin."
It also quoted Jon Matins, an economist and one of the founding directors of the Bitcoin Foundation. "During the London proof sessions, I had the opportunity to review the relevant data along three distinct lines: cryptographic, social, and technical," he told the BBC. "It is my firm belief that Craig Wright satisfies all three categories."
If Wright is indeed the author of the paper, he's not in it for the fame, he says — or even laying claim to the alleged $450 million worth of bitcoin in Satoshi Nakamoto's account. It's that the attention to his life after the Wired and Gizmodo profiles were starting to affect the people around him. "There are lots of stories out there that have been made up and I don't like it hurting those people I care about," he told the BBC. "I don't want any of them to be impacted by this."
"I have been staring at my screen for hours," he wrote on his blog, "but I cannot summon the words to express the depth of my gratitude to those that have supported the bitcoin project from its inception — too many names to list. You have dedicated vast swathes of your time, committed your gifts, sacrificed relationships and REM sleep for years to an open source project that could have come to nothing. And yet still you fought. This incredible community's passion and intellect and perseverance has taken my small contribution and nurtured it, enhanced it, breathed life into it. You have given the world a great gift. Thank you.
"Be assured," he wrote,"just as you have worked, I have not been idle during these many years. Since those early days, after distancing myself from the public persona that was Satoshi, I have poured every measure of myself into research. I have been silent, but I have not been absent. I have been engaged with an exceptional group and look forward to sharing our remarkable work when they are ready.
"Satoshi is dead.
"But this is only the beginning."
Craig Steven Wright, a 44-year-old former academic "nobody," as Wired put it had never before appeared on the public lists of any Nakamoto-hunters and yet troves of leaked (or perhaps hacked) documents published by both Wired and the tech blog Gizmodo seemed to point to him last December.
Within hours of the two stories' publication, Wright's online presence had all but vanished, Gizmodo reported, and Australian authorities were raiding Wright's suburban Sydney home.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Australian Federal Police said the searches were related to a tax investigation, not the recent articles linking Wright to Bitcoin.