Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

It's perhaps the biggest mystery of the internet. Who is the person hiding behind the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto? Who came up with Bitcoin? Up to this day, we still don't have the slightest idea which genius invented this ingenious protocol and kicked off the cryptocurrency revolution.

Bitcoin's development started in 2007 with the drafting of the protocol's code. Next, on October 31st, 2008, Nakamoto published the famous whitepaper. He launched the network shortly afterwards, in January 2009. Or, to be more precise: the launch occurred on January 3rd when the first block was mined. It contained the following text: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”. It referenced a London Times cover story about the appalling state of the economy at that time. In this subtle manner, Satoshi Nakamoto suggested that Bitcoin should also be considered a political statement. Indeed, Bitcoin emerged as a critical response to the global financial system.

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From whitepaper publication to mysterious disappearance

The development of Bitcoin started in 2007 with the first pieces of code written by Nakamoto. After having devised the entire protocol, he published the whitepaper in 2008 using a mailing list for cypherpunks. Cypherpunks are people who highly value their privacy and actively promote the use of cryptography and other technologies aimed to protect people's privacy. Julian Assange, the man who founded WikiLeaks in 2008, is one such famous cypherpunk. Two months passed following the publication of the whitepaper before the network went live. Meanwhile, Nakamoto had gathered a big group of enthusiasts who would cooperate with him on the further development of the protocol.

But after having been heavily involved in the Bitcoin community for about two years, Nakamoto announced that responsibility for the project would be handed over to Gavin Andresen. Nakamoto wrote his final contribution in 2010, and since then, not much has been heard of him. In the spring of 2011, he made himself heard one last time. He posted a message on the Bitcoin forum, announcing that he was busy doing other things and that Bitcoin was in good hands with Gavin Andresen and the rest of the community. Those were the final words of the mysterious inventor of Bitcoin. The mystery surrounding his identity has only grown bigger after his disappearance. Up to today, it is still not clear whether Nakamoto is a woman or a man; we don't even know if it concerns one individual, or whether multiple people were involved.

Before we list the principal suspects who may be hiding behind the Satoshi Nakamoto persona, we'll first discuss why it's so crucial for the mysterious man or woman behind Bitcoin to remain anonymous.

Why Satoshi Nakamoto's anonymous nature is crucial for Bitcoin

The real identity of the person behind Satoshi Nakamoto has been an enigma for more than ten years now. Interestingly, this is probably not even coincidental. Indeed, for Bitcoin to succeed, no single individual or company must have the power to decide on the coin's future. The network of participants determines the coin's rules. Anyone can participate in this network, without exception, which is why you could argue that Bitcoin represents the democratisation of our money. What's innovative about Bitcoin is that there's no central leadership figure. The system doesn't feature an identifiable leader. The assurance that no one can unilaterally adopt rules renders Bitcoin so valuable.

Consider, for instance, the Bitcoin circulation limit. This limit has been hard-coded at 21 million units. To change this, you would have to convince the majority of the network that it's advantageous to increase the Bitcoin circulation limit. But the chances of that happening are incredibly remote, as the network wouldn't benefit from it. It would cause all Bitcoins to drop in value. The strength of a truly decentralised cryptocurrency lies in the fact that its rules are transparent and cannot just be altered. Unless, of course, it is considered an improvement by the majority of the network.

There are plenty of other cryptocurrencies that also feature some degree of decentralisation, but the total amount of computer power behind such networks doesn't even approach that of Bitcoin. Besides, many of these coins were launched by companies, or an identifiable group of individuals, who are — either officially or practically speaking — in charge of the project. In such cases, it's either them defining the rules, or the community, which then acts as a rubber stamp and blindly accepts any changes or improvements. Fundamentally, these kinds of cryptocurrencies do not differ much from currencies issued and supervised by governments.

Another reason why Satoshi Nakamoto had to retreat to the background is the enormous stack of Bitcoin he has in possession (estimated at 1 million BTC). Such an amount of Bitcoin would allow him to disrupt the entire market. But as of now, these coins have never moved, and there are valid reasons to believe that they will never move. When one of these coins starts to move, the market will likely respond instantaneously.

Then why would this scenario probably never unfold? 

Well, Satoshi could have claimed about 1 million Bitcoin Cash at the time of the Bitcoin Cash fork, which would have practically destroyed the coin. However, he never did this, and there have been other instances as well when it would have been logical for Nakamoto to make use of his Bitcoins, but when he didn't. Perhaps his Bitcoins are out of reach for him, but it's also possible that he considers the project more valuable than his own economic benefit. Time will tell.

Who are the main suspects behind Satoshi Nakamoto?

We have now arrived at the section of this article that probably drew your attention in the first place: Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? Many different theories are pointing to possible individuals, and there are also plenty of people claiming to be Satoshi himself. Although his identity remains a mystery, this hasn't stopped people from digging into the real background of Bitcoin's mysterious inventor. 

What stood out in his written contributions was his perfect English, which led people to doubt the Japanese origins the pseudonym suggests. It's his use of British English for the Bitcoin code that has raised suspicions about his possible English background. A Swiss programmer and active member of the Bitcoin community once plotted a graph with timestamps of Satoshi's posts. It revealed that Satoshi was more or less absent from the forum between midnight and 6:00 a.m. UK time. Of course, this only helped spread rumours about his British background.

Nick Szabo

The first person we discuss here is Nick Szabo, one of Bitcoin's early supporters. He was already known for his passion for money and digital currencies due to his various publications on the subject. He is primarily considered one of the prime suspects to be hiding behind the Nakamoto pseudonym because of a paper called ‘Bit Gold’, which is often seen as Bitcoin's predecessor. Interestingly, Szabo also indicated on his blog in 2008 that he was working on a live version of Bit Gold. It's not improbable for this to eventually have culminated in Bitcoin. Also, a research firm compared Szabo's writing style with that of the Bitcoin whitepaper, revealing a lot of similarities. Despite all these findings, Szabo still denies that he is Satoshi. And indeed, why would he admit to this? It would make him more vulnerable.

Satoshi also makes various references to ideas used by Bit Gold in the Bitcoin whitepaper, without ever explicitly mentioning Bit Gold. Such is also typical for someone who has fully embraced his ideas. Szabo remains one of the prime suspects, even though none of the above can be considered hard evidence.

Hal Finney

Hal Finney is another prominent Bitcoin affiliate and developer who has been involved in the project from the start. He was the first person to ever respond to Satoshi's mailing list and the first person to ever be on the receiving end of a Bitcoin transaction. Finney noticed Bitcoin's potential already at an early stage and was able to articulate this well. According to Juola & Associates, a firm specialised in writing style recognition, Finney's writing style resembles Satoshi's style best. The only caveat here is that the conversations Satoshi had with Finney, as well as the first transaction, would then have been a one-person affair. It appears a bit counter-intuitive for someone who has done everything to conceal his true identity; a link could be quickly established. He must have foreseen that the search would eventually lead to him anyway, in which case it provides the perfect cover.

Another fun fact is that Hal Finney lived two streets away from a man called Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto. Interestingly, this man was eventually evicted out of his house by bankers, which sparked rumours that the inventor of Bitcoin chose the name Satoshi Nakamoto for symbolic reasons. This man would, in that case, represent all victims of the financial system.

Gavin Andresen

The main argument supporting the claim that Gavin Andresen is the man behind the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym is that he was put in charge of the project in 2010. If he and Satoshi are indeed the same person, it did provide Andresen with the perfect cover-up to disappear into the background and simultaneously remain involved in the project. Gavin Andresen's writing style also shows many similarities when compared to Satoshi's. However, Andresen has also openly voiced that he believes that Craig Wright, the man claiming to be Satoshi, may indeed be the person hiding behind the pseudonym. Perhaps he indeed believed Wright's claims, but it's also possible that he used those claims to deflect attention.

Craig Wright

It's almost impossible not to discuss Craig Wright here. This semi-crazy scientist would love to be Satoshi and has been making all kinds of claims since 2016. There is some evidence that Wright was indeed involved in the project when it started, but all his claims have for now convincingly been marked as lies. Wright's claims appear to be not much more than childish screams for attention, and as such, it's not worth paying much attention to it.

Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto

We already briefly discussed him, but besides the fact that this man shares his name with the inventor of Bitcoin, there is little reason to believe that he is indeed the person responsible for it. The only thing that speaks in his favour is that he lived a couple of streets down from Hal Finney, but that serves more as evidence for Finney than for Satoshi.

What's funny about Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, is that even though it's almost impossible for him to have conceived Bitcoin, he did manage to become the face of Satoshi Nakamoto. It's because of this reason that he is often booked to participate in blockchain conferences.

Will the mystery surrounding Satoshi's identity ever be solved?

Only time will tell whether we will ever find out who the inventor of Bitcoin was. Aside from the names mentioned above, there have also been countless of other people purported to be Satoshi Nakamoto. Even Elon Musk occasionally appears on such lists. For Bitcoin, it would be best if people never find out who Satoshi is. Still, that doesn't stop even the most dedicated supporters of the project to try to unravel the identity of this mysterious genius. It must be difficult for Satoshi himself as well from time to time to have developed something so magnificent without being able to claim it. However, this also shows that he has set aside his ego for his ideals, which is already an exceptional feat in and of itself.