The greatest mystery in the tech world today is not how bitcoin works, but who created it. On 31 October 2008, someone under the name of Satoshi Nakamoto published a White Paper on 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 tried to unveil the shadow cast on his identity without much luck. There were a lot of candidates, some of them even self-nominated. None of them gave definite proof for their claims, so we are still to find the person behind the mystery.
However, one of the candidates stands out. And if I would have to guess, I would say with great certainty that he is the real Satoshi. Before I tell you who I picked, let’s see what we do know about Satoshi. Or better yet, what he wants us to know.
On a P2P Foundation profile, he claimed to be a man from Japan, born on 5 April 1975. The problem is he doesn’t behave or sound like a Japanese. First, he wrote the White Paper as well as his posts in perfect English. Second, his sleep pattern is very strange for someone living in Japan. A bitcoin forum member Stefan Thomas graphed the time stamps from more than 500 Satoshi’s posts. He discovered that Nakamoto never posted anything between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Japanese time. So it is possible that his identity is fictional. But why would he pretend to be someone else?
There is a pretty good reason
Just like there was the 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 it. However, the USA government saw the potential of this technology and confiscated it. The criminal investigation then was launched into PGP and Zimmermann.
The only thing this technology did is enable two individuals to communicate without being eavesdropped on. Imagine what would happen to the creator of technology that enables free money transfer without banks or intermediaries. A technology that takes money out of the hands of the government. And 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 are the known facts.
As I’ve mentioned above, Satoshi Nakamoto emerged with a White Paper 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 a domain name bitcoin.org and continued to work on a bitcoin software. On 3 January 2009, Satoshi mined the first bitcoin block called 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 keys and codes to Gavin Andersen and transferred domains to members of the community. By the end of 2010, he stopped working on the project.
And that was it
The man who disrupted the financial system for good, simply disappeared. But why then?
Furthermore, Satoshi’s bitcoin address contains about 1,000,000 bitcoins. In December 2017, when the price peaked, he had more than 19 billion dollars. For that short moment, Nakamoto was 44th richest person in the world! And to this day he hasn’t cashed a single bitcoin.
All that points to the conclusion that something may have happened to him. That is why I believe Hal Finney is the person behind the mystery. Unfortunately, Finney was diagnosed with ALS in 2009 and he fought the disease until his death in 2014. I imagine he had started the future of money but had to retreat when the disease progressed. And then he died and left us with only rumors about the true identity of the bitcoin creator. He could not claim his throne.
It’s not the only clue I have, however
Hal Finney was a computer scientist graduated from Caltech in 1979. As a student, he was voted “most brains” by his peers. During his freshman year, he took a course on gravitational field theory designed for graduate students. Apparently, Finney was very intelligent, and people remember seeing him with a copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. With this kind of literature, he could have easily formed libertarian views on life.
And he did. His views pushed him to a little-known group of free thinkers and coders. 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 had put his knowledge at their disposal for achieving the cryptoanarchist vision.
Hal knew Zimmermann very well
When someone wrote on their mailing list about the above-mentioned Phil Zimmermann and his idea for PGP, Hal responded. He contacted Phil and became the first employee for PGP Corporation, working there until his retirement in 2011. The same year Satoshi Nakamoto stopped his involvement in the bitcoin creation.
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 first appears. Less than two miles from his house lived another scientist named Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto. It is possible that Finney took his identity to conceal his own. I mean, what are the odds for both of them to live in Temple City, a small town with just 36,000 people? One cryptographic genius and another named exactly like the bitcoin founder. Too much coincidence?
Let’s look at other clues
After posting the White Paper 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 are right, it was Hal Finney.
The message was:
He even encouraged Satoshi to write the code thinking others will be convinced once they see the network running.
The rest of the story goes like this: When the code was done and program ready for testing, it was Hal who received the first version. On 10 January 2009, he downloaded the code and connected to the bitcoin network. His computer was the first one to connect to the Satoshi’s network. Two days later, Hal received 10 bitcoins from Satoshi. It was the first bitcoin transaction between two computers. To me, it is very interesting that Hal was always at the center of events regarding bitcoin.
— halfin (@halfin) January 11, 2009
I think that things happened little differently
Finney was behind Satoshi’s account and he sent messages to himself. It does seem a little far-fetched. However, if you are deliberately trying to hide your contribution to the project, this is the way to do it. So, he faked messages and sent first bitcoins to himself to test the transactions. That is why he never paid them back.
Not to mention that, according to Wikipedia, Hal Finney created the first reusable proof of the work system. As you know, it is a protocol on which bitcoin is based. Furthermore, he was fascinated with the idea of digital money from the 1990s. In 1993, he even created his own version and called it 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 the DigiCash. Finney wasn’t very amused by it, so he started to think of the ways to make it decentralized. Just like bitcoin.
But Hal denied all
Of course, this isn’t the first time someone pointed to Finney when trying to solve this mystery. Forbes journalist Andy Greenberg even went to his house and asked if he was the real Satoshi. Hal categorically denied this allegation. 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 the media. And the media wasn’t the only problem. Someone tried to extort fee of 1,000 bitcoins from him during his last year. Imagine what would have happened if they knew he was Satoshi. And I won’t even ponder what the government would have done to him.
So, his decision was 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 the power from governments and corporations to the hands of the individuals. In a time of technology when our privacy is compromised, Bitcoin is something to be hopeful for. The mystery behind it also helps the project as it leaves room for our imagination. Everyone can project their own vision onto Bitcoin.
Although his work has outlived him, we are not to forget Hal Finney and his legacy to the mankind. Even if I am wrong, and he isn’t the real Satoshi Nakamoto, we should not forget 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 a person behind the mystery? Or could it be someone else? Write your opinion in the comments.