The greatest mystery in the tech world today is not how Bitcoin works, but who is the creator of Bitcoin. On October 31, 2008, someone under the name of Satoshi Nakamoto published a whitepaper on a cryptography mailing list. That event changed the history of money and left us all wondering about the mastermind behind it.
Over the years, many journalists and bloggers have tried to unveil the shadow cast on the creator of Bitcoin without much luck. There have been a lot of candidates, some of them even self-nominated. However, none have given definitive proof of their claims, so we are still searching for the man (or woman) behind the mystery.
There is, though, one stand-out candidate. I had to guess, I would say with great certainty that he is the creator of Bitcoin. Before I tell you who I’ve chosen, let’s assess what we know about Satoshi. Or, better yet, what he wants us to know.
In Satoshi’s P2P Foundation profile, he claims to be a man from Japan, born on April 5, 1975. The problem is that he doesn’t behave or sound like someone from Japan. First of all, he wrote the whitepaper and his subsequent posts in perfect English. Secondly, his sleep pattern is very strange for someone living in Japan.
Bitcoin Forum member Stefan Thomas graphed the time stamps from more than 500 of Satoshi’s posts. He found that Nakamoto never posted anything between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Japanese time. So, it’s possible – probable, even – that Satoshi’s entire identity is fictional. But why would he pretend to be someone else?
There is a pretty good reason
Just like there was Pretty Good Privacy, a project that enabled people to send encrypted messages to each other. Phil Zimmermann, an activist who wanted to give dissidents a government-free communication channel, founded PGP. However, the USA government realized the potential of this technology and confiscated it. PGP and Zimmermann then become the subjects of a criminal investigation.
The only thing this technology did was enable two individuals to communicate without being eavesdropped on. So, imagine how the government would treat the creator of Bitcoin, a technology that enables free money transfers without banks or intermediaries. A technology that takes money out of the hands of the government. Bitcoin is exactly that.
What do we know about Satoshi?
Now that I’ve covered my misgivings about his identity and reasons for hiding it, here’s what we know about Satoshi.
As I’ve already mentioned, Satoshi Nakamoto emerged with a whitepaper on cryptography mailing list metzdowd.com. His nine-page document proposed “a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party” on Halloween 2008.
He then created the bitcointalk forum and posted the first message under the pseudonym satoshi. He also made a website with the domain name bitcoin.org and continued to work on Bitcoin software. On January 3, 2009, Satoshi mined the first Bitcoin block, known as the “genesis block.”
Throughout 2010, Nakamoto collaborated with other developers to modify the Bitcoin protocol. He was involved in the Bitcoin community and corresponded with them frequently. Then all of a sudden he gave the keys and codes to Gavin Andersen and transferred domains to members of the community. By the end of 2010, he had stopped working on the project.
And that was it
The man who had disrupted the financial system for good simply disappeared. But why then?
We should also stake into account that Satoshi’s Bitcoin address had – and still contains – about 1,000,000 BTC. In December 2017, when the price peaked, he had more than US$19 billion. For that short moment, Nakamoto was 44th richest person in the world! And to this day he hasn’t cashed a single Bitcoin.
All this evidence suggests that something may have happened to Satoshi. That is why I believe Hal Finney is the creator of Bitcoin.
Unfortunately, Finney was diagnosed with ALS in 2009 and fought the disease until his death in 2014. I imagine he created the future of money, but then had to retreat when the disease progressed. And then he died and left us with only rumors about the true identity of the creator of Bitcoin. He could not claim his throne.
There are more clues
Hal Finney was a computer scientist who graduated from Caltech in 1979. As a student, he wreceived the “most brains” award from his peers. During his freshman year, he took a course on gravitational field theory designed for graduate students. It seems Finney was extremely intelligent, which fits the first criterion for being Satoshi.
Students also remember seeing Finney with a copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. If he was reading this kind of literature, he could have easily formed libertarian views on life.
And he did. His views pushed him towards a little-known group of free thinkers and coders. Then, in the early 1990s, he became a member of Cypherpunks. This movement was dedicated to the “widespread use of strong cryptography and privacy-enhancing technologies as a route to social and political change.” They were self-proclaimed defenders of privacy and Finney put his knowledge at their disposal to achieve the cryptoanarchist vision.
Finney and Zimmermann knew each other very well
When someone wrote on Cypherpunks about the above-mentioned Phil Zimmermann and his idea for PGP, Hal responded. He contacted Phil and became the first employee of PGP Corporation, working there until his retirement in 2011. That same year, Satoshi Nakamoto stopped his involvement with Bitcoin.
Finney made a significant contribution to the new version of the PGP protocol, but he had to hide his involvement from the government. So he was very well aware of the problems Phil had regarding PGP. Because of that, I can understand his desire to hide his identity when creating Bitcoin. But why did he choose to be a man from a faraway Japan?
Well, his fictional character was much closer than it might appear. Less than two miles from his house lived another scientist named Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto. It is possible that Finney took Nakamoto’s identity to conceal his own. I mean, what are the odds that both of them lived in Temple City, a small town with just 36,000 people? One cryptographic genius and another named exactly like the creator of Bitcoin: too big a coincidence?
Let’s look at other clues
After posting the whitepaper on the mailing list, Satoshi received three replies. Two of them were negative. However, the third answer was very much affirmative, and it boosted the acceptance of Bitcoin. Guess who posted that message? You’re right, it was Hal Finney.
The message was:
He even encouraged Satoshi to write the code, thinking others would be convinced once they saw the network running.
The rest of the story goes like this: When the code was done and the program ready for testing, it was Hal who received the first version. On January 10, 2009, he downloaded the code and connected to the Bitcoin network. His computer was the first to connect to Satoshi’s network.
Two days later, Hal received 10 BTC from Satoshi. It was the first Bitcoin transaction between two computers. To me, it’s very interesting that Hal was always involved in Bitcoin’s biggest moments.
— halfin (@halfin) January 11, 2009
However, I think things happened little differently
So, Finney was behind Satoshi’s account and he sent messages to himself? I agree, it does seem far-fetched. However, if you’re deliberately trying to hide your contribution to the project, this is the way to do it. I think he faked those messages and sent the first Bitcoins to himself to test the transaction system. That is why he never paid them back.
Not to mention that, according to Wikipedia, Hal Finney created the first reusable proof-of-work system. As you know, this is the protocol on which Bitcoin is based. Furthermore, Finney was fascinated with the idea of digital money from the 1990s. In 1993, he even created his own currency called CRASH, derived from CRypto cASH.
Before that, David Chaum invented anonymous electronic money called DigiCash. One bank in the USA started to experiment with it and Hal immediately opened an account there. The problem was that Chaum’s version was centralized, and when his company collapsed, so did DigiCash. Finney wasn’t very amused by this, so he started to think of the ways to make currency decentralized. Just like Bitcoin.
But Hal denied it all
Of course, this isn’t the first time someone has identified Finney as the creator of Bitcoin. Forbes journalist Andy Greenberg even went to his house and asked if he was the real Satoshi. Hal categorically denied the claim. As evidence, his son Jason showed the conversation between Hal and Satoshi from 2009. He also denied knowing Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, his neighbor from Temple City.
I assume he simply wished to spend his last days with his family. Since he was essentially paralyzed, he did not wish to be disturbed by a media circus. And the media wasn’t the only problem. Someone tried to extort 1,000 BTC from him shortly before his death. Imagine what that criminal would have done if they’d known he was the real Satoshi. And let’s not even think about what the government would have done to him.
So, he decided to lay low. And it was for the best. Satoshi’s anonymity increases the level of faith in the system. He gave the world something extraordinary, a legacy that he could be proud of. If Bitcoin succeeds, it’s going to shift power from governments and corporations to the hands of individuals.
In the technological era, when our privacy is compromised, Bitcoin is something to be hopeful for. The mystery behind its creator leaves room for our imagination; everyone can project their own vision onto Bitcoin.
Although his work has outlived him, we should not forget Hal Finney and his legacy to mankind. Even if I am wrong, and he isn’t the real Satoshi Nakamoto, we should always remember the contribution he had made to Bitcoin. He was a worthy soldier in our fight for a better tomorrow.
What do you think? Is Hal Finney the man behind the mystery? Or could it be someone else? Let us know your opinion in the comments.