Commentary

Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto? The Top 4 Candidates Revealed

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bitcoin and gold
Image Credit: PromesaStudio/Depositphotos

Everyone knows Satoshi Nakamoto invented Bitcoin, and yet no one knows the true identity of the person—or persons—behind the name.

Instead, we’re reduced to guesswork. As you’d expect, a few potential candidates top the list. Here’s our take on the situation.

1. Nick Szabo

Nick Szabo is many people’s most likely contender to be Satoshi Nakamoto.

Why He Could Be Nakamoto

The most commonly cited piece of evidence in the case for Nick Szabo is his work on Bit Gold. Designed in 1998, Szabo’s idea is credited with laying the groundwork for Bitcoin.

Bit Gold was a decentralized digital currency. Like Bitcoin, it relied on computer power to solve cryptographic puzzles. The answer would then form part of the question of the next puzzle, thus removing the danger of double spending. The currency was never implemented.

“I was trying to mimic as closely as possible in cyberspace the security and trust characteristics of gold, and chief among those is that it doesn’t depend on a trusted central authority.”

The big clue came in spring 2008. Szabo posted a message on his personal blog in which he rekindled the idea of Bit Gold and put out an open plea for people to help him build it.

“[Bit Gold] would greatly benefit from a demonstration [in] an experimental market . . . Anybody want to help me code one up?”

The post initially went live on 17 May. Szabo later changed the date on his own site to show December, but you can still see the original on archive.org.

Bitcoin’s whitepaper was published on 31 October, and Nakamoto mined the genesis block on 3 January 2009.

It is also known that Szabo was interested in using pseudonyms as long ago as October 1993. You can still read an old message thread on cypherpunks.venona.com, in which he says:

“I’ve had several years to establish a net.reputation for “Nick Szabo,” and it might take a long time for any of my pseudonyms to catch up.”

Why He Definitely Isn’t Nakamoto

Szabo was born and raised California and graduated from the University of Washington. It would be fair to assume, therefore, that he would use American English spellings and phrases in his work.

In practice, there are numerous examples of British English—both in the original whitepaper and in Bitcoin’s code.

In the whitepaper, “-our” (for example, “favourite”) spellings are common. There’s also references to “maths” instead of “math” and “flat” instead of “apartment.” In the code itself (and in forum postings on Bitcointalk.org, Nakamoto uses the British colloquialism “bloody hard” on several occasions.

Finally—in what will become a reoccurring theme—Szabo himself has repeatedly denied any suggestion that is Nakamoto.

2. Hal Finney

The second candidate on our list is Hal Finney. Finney sadly passed away from ALS 2014.

Why He Could Be Nakamoto

Finney received the first ever Bitcoin transaction from Nakamoto.

Some people have speculated that Nakamoto was a secondary account that Finney used to distance himself from his creation. He was also the first person other than Nakamoto to file bug reports and exchanged numerous emails with Szabo.

In more recent times, handwriting studies that compared Finney’s work and that of the purported Nakamoto have shown considerable correlation.

But perhaps the most compelling evidence of all is the presence of a man named Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto who lived just blocks from Finney’s residence.

Around the time of Bitcoin’s launch (and remember, in the midst of the fallout from the 2008 financial crash), Dorian Nakamoto’s home was being foreclosed by a bank. It seems highly possible that Nakamoto’s name provided Finney with the inspiration for the name of the symbolic anti-establishment figurehead of the coin.

When asked, Dorian Nakamoto denied all knowledge of Bitcoin:

“I have nothing to do with Bitcoin. I never worked for the company, I don’t know any people there, I never had a contract there or anything like that. I wasn’t even aware of the product.”

Why He Definitely Isn’t Nakamoto

Prior to his death, Finney said in a blog post that he was still unsure of Nakamoto’s true identity.

“I thought I was dealing with a young man of Japanese ancestry who was very smart and sincere. I’ve had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the course of my life, so I recognize the signs.”

The British question also raises its head again. Hal Finney was born in California and studied at the California Institute of Technology. It is unlikely he would use British-isms in his day-to-day life.

Other Candidates

A couple of other people’s names pop up occasionally, but the cases are not as compelling.

Craig Wright

In December 2015, both Gizmodo and Wired published independent investigations that claimed Australian Craig Wright was the creator of Bitcoin.

Wright immediately confessed and appeared to provide cryptographic proof of the claims. A closer analysis of the claims, however, raised significant question marks.

It’s now widely accepted that Wright’s confession was an elaborate hoax.

Wei Dai

The final candidate is Wei Dai. Dai had been part of several crypto projects before Bitcoin, including b-money—an anonymous, distributed electronic cash system that was referenced in the Bitcoin whitepaper.

Dai has also been name-dropped by both Szabo and Finney during interviews. In a post on his own website, Szabo said the following:

“Myself, Wei Dai, and Hal Finney were the only people I know of who liked the idea (or in Dai’s case his related idea) enough to pursue it to any significant extent until Nakamoto.”

Once again, Dai has denied all the speculation. Here’s what he said in a post on lesswrong.com:

“My understanding is that the creator of Bitcoin, who goes by the name Satoshi Nakamoto, didn’t even read my article before reinventing the idea himself. He learned about it afterward and credited me in his paper. So, my connection with the project is quite limited.”

Our Predictions

Okay, so what do the rest of the BlocksDecoded team think? Let’s ask them.

Joe

I think it’s Hal Finney, or he’s at least heavily involved with the group that identifies as Nakamoto. The fact that his handwriting is so similar (and it’s been compared in true Unabomber style) is quite compelling.

Gavin

I think it’s a combination of Szabo and Finney, and maybe others. There are just too many coincidences for it to be anyone else.

Dan

Any myself? I think it was a joint project between Finney and Szabo.

The British vernacular can be explained away with Szabo’s love of pseudonyms; a time zone analysis showed that Nakamoto made almost no posts on Bitcointalk.org made between 10 pm and 4 am in California, suggesting a presence on the U.S. west coast.

The name has surely come from Finney.

Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto?

Who do you think is Satoshi Nakamoto? Was it Hal Finney, Nick Szabo, or a well-mannered Japanese man with bizarre sleeping patterns?!

Let us know in the comments below.

Dan Price
In his previous life, Dan spent five years providing investment advice to clients. You might assume, therefore, he was savvy enough to spot the opportunities presented by cryptocurrency in its early days. Sadly, he wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a passion for all things blockchain today. He strongly believes in long-term future of the technology and wants to help everyone else understand its benefits. Just don’t listen to his market tips.

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