There's a lot we don't know about Satoshi Nakamoto — but does unmasking the creator of Bitcoin even matter?
Join us in showcasing the cryptocurrency revolution, one newsletter at a time. Subscribe now to get daily news and market updates right to your inbox, along with our millions of other subscribers (that’s right, millions love us!) — what are you waiting for?
The Birth of Bitcoin: Who Created Bitcoin?
Unmasking the Creator of Bitcoin
There's a lot we don't know about Satoshi Nakamoto and who created Bitcoin. Is the author a he or a she? Does this name represent one person, or does it collectively describe a group of people? Is Satoshi from the East Coast of the United States, the United Kingdom or elsewhere?
Several media outlets have claimed they've found the real Satoshi Nakamoto over the years. Publications such as the New Yorker have insisted Bitcoin's creator needs to be revealed. Over the years, many journalists — from Newsweek, Forbes, Wired and Gizmodo — attempted to disclose the identity of Satoshi, only to be met with rebuttal from the suspects themselves, or internet sleuths. Of all candidates, one even outrightly claimed to be the creator of Bitcoin himself.
In the Satoshi Files series, we dived into each possible Satoshi suspects — a grand total of 14 — to look at their stories, involvement with Bitcoin, and why they are believed to be the elusive pseudonymous founder.
In no particular order, here's a summary of the list of possible Satoshi Nakamotos.
Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto is a Japanese American programmer who came to fame in March 2014 when Newsweek journalist Leah McGrath Goodman outed him as the mastermind behind Bitcoin. When they approached him for comment on the story, he said “I am no longer involved in that, and I cannot discuss it. It's been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection."
Nakamoto later recanted his statement, however, and said he didn’t understand the question he was being asked. He also pointed out his precarious financial status, which wouldn’t be the case were he secretly hoarding billions in Bitcoin.
Hal Finney was a revered computer scientist, cryptographer, and software developer who helped Satoshi Nakamoto develop Bitcoin. Finney is perhaps best known for developing Reusable Proof of Work (RPoW), a precursor to Bitcoin. Szabo, another cryptographer and possible Satoshi, described Finney’s RPoW as “the world’s first implemented cryptocurrency.”
In October 2008, when Satoshi published the Bitcoin whitepaper, Finney was one of the first people to read it and reply to Satoshi’s post. He was also the first person to download the Bitcoin software and became the first ever Bitcoin miner, after Satoshi.
Craig Wright is an Australian computer scientist and businessman renowned for being the only person who openly claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto. Following the death of his business partner Dave Kleiman, who also features on this list, Wright began telling people that he and Kleiman had secretly masterminded Bitcoin.
A package of ‘proof’ that Wright was Satoshi was sent round to various media outlets, most of whom didn’t investigate the matter further. But Wired and Gizmodo picked up the trail and published the proof in a series of articles ‘outing’ Wright and Kleiman as Team Satoshi.
Nick Szabo is a computer scientist, cryptographer and cypherpunk. Szabo managed to find some early success in cryptography thanks to his invention of smart contracts — which have profoundly influenced the cryptocurrency space — in 1994. He then wrote several illuminating papers on concepts related to Bitcoin, including ‘timestamped databases’ and ‘virtual gold.’
He went as far as proposing building a virtual currency called bit gold about a year before Satoshi published the Bitcoin whitepaper, which has led many to believe that he was the chief architect of the Bitcoin project. Additionally, several writing analyses have indicated that Szabo’s writing style bore the most similarity to Satoshi’s.
Wei Dai is a computer scientist whose cryptography expertise sees him feature near the top of every ‘who is Satoshi’ article ever written. Although we don’t know much about Dai’s personal life, his work on cryptography is available for the whole world to see, and it’s very impressive. In fact, Satoshi himself even referenced Dai’s work in the Bitcoin whitepaper.
Dai is perhaps best known for theorizing b-money: an anonymous distributed cash system similar to Bitcoin, which he outlined in a paper in 1998. Although he never launched a prototype, we do know that it bore striking resemblances to Satoshi’s Bitcoin. Wei Dai's ability to remain pseudonymous (there’s not even a confirmed photo of him online), makes him another prime candidate.
Gavin Andresen is a software developer known for taking over Bitcoin after Satoshi disappeared in 2011. Andresen discovered Bitcoin in May 2010. He saw that Bitcoin would spread faster if people could get some coins for free, so he set up the Bitcoin faucet which gave people free Bitcoin every time they completed a captcha challenge. The faucet undoubtedly helped Bitcoin to catch on as fast as it did.
Satoshi gave Andresen more responsibility over Bitcoin development as time went by, and eventually handed him the reins of the whole project before vanishing forever in April 2011. Andresen has never claimed to be Satoshi, and has denied being so every time he was asked publicly. However, his technical expertise and close association with Bitcoin has led some to speculate that he may have been more involved in its creation than he lets on.
David Kleiman was a cybersecurity expert and forensic analyst best known in relation to Craig Wright, the Australian businessman who claims he and Kleiman invented Bitcoin. Kleiman died of an MRSA infection in 2013, two years before Wright told anyone that he was part of Team Satoshi. Kleiman never mentioned to anyone that he was involved in Bitcoin before he died, but that hasn’t stopped Wright from telling anyone who would listen that they did.
Since the notion that Kleiman might be Satoshi is inextricably linked to Craig Wright (who made the claim on his behalf), not many people believe that Kleiman could have invented Bitcoin alone. Even so, he and Wright are two of the most referenced characters in the search for Satoshi, hence why they both feature on this list.
Computer science and cryptography graduate Michael Clear became one of the first people touted as ‘Satoshi Unmasked’ after The New Yorker’s Joshua Davis wrote a piece about him in October 2011. Davis thought Clear could be a good Satoshi candidate because, in addition to his academic background, he worked in banking during the financial crisis in 2008. This was relevant because Satoshi wrote in Bitcoin’s first ever block “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.”
Once the piece came out, Clear strongly denied having anything to do with Bitcoin, and wrote a response on his blog. He has since said, “I have strongly denied being Satoshi many times, and I'm glad that the whole thing has largely blown over.” Despite his denials, Clear is often cited as a good candidate to be Satoshi thanks to his technical skills and background in cryptography.
Zooko was one of the first Cypherpunks to get involved with Bitcoin back in 2009, although he didn’t work on development. Instead, he blogged about it and helped spread the word about its potential. Some consider Zooko a likely candidate to be Satoshi owing to his professional background and close association with the project when it was getting off the ground.
Martti Malmi, also known as ‘Sirius-m’ online, is a Finnish computer scientist and software developer who helped Satoshi develop Bitcoin during its earliest stages. A computer science graduate at Helsinki University, Malmi wrote Bitcoin’s early documentation and set up the Bitcointalk forum.
Malmi put Bitcoin on the map when he sold 5,050 BTC for $5.02, which gave Bitcoin its first value of $0.0009 per coin. Following this, he wrote some C++ code for Bitcoin, and developed Linux support for Bitcoin v0.2, for which he received a shoutout from Satoshi himself. Owing to his early involvement in Bitcoin and his technical skills, Martti Malmi is often cited as a leading candidate to be Satoshi Nakamoto.
Adam Back is a cypherpunk, cryptographer, and leader in the blockchain space. Back developed the Hashcash proof-of-work algorithm that Satoshi later used to develop Bitcoin, and was one of the few people named in the Bitcoin whitepaper. He spoke with Satoshi once or twice via email, although he has refused to reveal (and said he would destroy if he ever found) the emails.
Given his technical prowess and his impressive professional and academic background, Back has long been thought of as someone who could have either invented Bitcoin, or have worked as part of a team who did.
David Chaum has spent his long and illustrious career so far developing cryptographic solutions to protect sensitive data in the digital age: as such, he’s considered the “godfather of cryptocurrency” and “the father of online anonymity.”
Chaum’s stellar reputation can be traced back to the papers he wrote while studying at UC Berkeley on ‘Untraceable Electronic Mail’ and ‘mix networks,’ which introduced revolutionary ideas to the field of cryptography. In his doctoral thesis, Chaum introduced nearly every element of the blockchain protocol Satoshi proposed in the Bitcoin whitepaper; all that he missed was proof-of-work (PoW), which wasn’t proposed until eleven years later.
Chaum went on to found Ecash, which is widely considered the forerunner to Bitcoin. Owing to his background in cryptography and computer science, as well as his experience building the world’s first globally distributed digital currency, many believe that Chaum could have helped develop Bitcoin.
One of the most interesting stories in this list, Paul Caulder Le Roux is a former programmer and criminal cartel boss currently serving a twenty-five year prison sentence for drug and arms trafficking, money laundering and murder.
Le Roux wasn’t on anybody’s radar in relation to Bitcoin until the Kleiman v. Wright lawsuit, when Craig Wright filed a motion for a protective order with an unredacted footnote called “Document 187.” It was the URL to Paul Le Roux’s Wikipedia page.
Since then, numerous theories surfaced about his potential involvement, even only because of his fascinating Bond villain-like life story, and what it would mean for crypto if it turned out the allegations that he did invent Bitcoin were true.
Sergei Nazarov is an investor and serial entrepreneur known for developing the oracle network, Chainlink. Nazarov worked with venture capital firm FirstMark Capital, who were early investors in Riot Games and Pinterest. While working at FirstMark, Nazarov became interested in smart contracts and how they could influence the financial sector.
Six days before Satoshi published the Bitcoin whitepaper, Nazarov registered the “smartcontract.com” domain, suggesting a very early interest in digital currencies. This, along with a CoinTelegraph investigation which showed the person who owned Satoshi’s proxy server was also called Sergey, have led some to believe that Sergey Nazarov is in fact Satoshi Nakamoto.
A Final Reveal?
Despite BTC’s growing interest, we may never know the true identity of Satoshi, the driving force behind decentralized currency. Some in the crypto world are nervous about efforts to reveal Satoshi, and believe in letting sleeping dogs lie. But for now, expect endless debate to continue about who penned Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.
So, who do you think created Bitcoin?