An Australian cryptographer and entrepreneur named Craig Wright has outed himself to the world as Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin.
Far from ending one of the tech world’s greatest mysteries, Wright’s claims have just fanned the flames of doubt, with many believing he him to be a hoax.
This isn’t the first time we’ve been told the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto had been found. A couple of years back an overzealous Newsweek reporter claimed he’d tracked down the man behind Bitcoin. On that occasion the individual identified refuted the reporter’s claim. No denial’s on this occasion. Not from Craig Wright anyway.
In interviews with three media organizations, the BBC, the Economist, and GQ Magazine Wright provided evidence backing up his claims. GQ are yet to publish their full story (aren’t they a fashion magazine anyway?), the BBC seem to think the story has legs, while the Economist is not entirely convinced…
“We are not so sure. Although they are not completely satisfactory, Mr Wright provided credible answers to the questions which were asked of him after he was outed last year. He seems to have the expertise to develop a complex cryptographic system such as bitcoin. But doubts remain: why does he not let us send him a message to sign, for example?”
Neither is the tech community.
Opinions at Reddit aren’t exactly divided – they range from mildly to scathingly skeptical.
Andresen is chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation, and was one of the first programmers working on Bitcoin with Satoshi. He corresponded with Satoshi more than anyone else during the cryptocurrency’s development, before the enigmatic creator decided to disappear altogether in 2011. Andresen’s opinion counts.
In a private meeting in a hotel room in London on 7 April, Wright proved to Andresen’s satisfaction that he was in possession of the cryptographic “private keys” attached to the some of the earliest Bitcoins created and known to still be owned by Satoshi Nakamoto. Andresen has since published on his website that, “I believe Craig Steven Wright is the person who invented Bitcoin.”
The manner in which Wright has revealed his identity hasn’t help silence the doubters. Apparently, it would be quite simple to publicly prove that you are Satoshi Nakamoto. You could either sell one of your earliest created bitcoins, or demonstrate possession of the private keys attached to these bitcoins by using them to digitally ‘sign’ a message. End of story.
Instead, Wright chose private, controlled forums to demonstrate his case…three of them with media outlets not exactly renowned for their cryptography expertise (I really thought GQ was a fashion magazine?). Even the Andresen meeting was open to manipulation some say (for example, the computer used for the test was provided by Wright’s assistant).
When Wright eventually decided to provide public proof this backfired. A blog post intended to prove possession of one of Nakamoto’s private keys was quickly found to do nothing of the sort. It was described by one programmer as, “flimflam and hokum which stands up to a few minutes of cursory scrutiny”. Another described it as “intentional scammery”. Andresen himself is a bit mystified by the Wright post, calling it ‘funky’ in Reddit – but he still stands by his original opinion.
This story isn’t going to go away any time soon. The feeding frenzy has only just begun and despite Wright’s assertion to GQ that, “I’m not doing this to try and get in the media” (even he must have realized the irony of that statement, made sitting in the offices of GQ magazine) we will be reading a lot about this man, and whether he is or is not who is claiming to be.
If he is, as the owner of around 1 million bitcoins, he is worth somewhere in the vicinity of $450 million. If he is not, his motivation for inviting extreme scrutiny is hard to fathom. One theory already doing the rounds is that it could be related to an Australian Tax Office investigation.
The plot thickens…