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Will the real Satoshi please stand up?
That’s the question on everyone’s minds this week after Australian computer scientist and businessman Craig Wright claimed to be Satoshi Nakamoto – the inventor of Bitcoin.
Wright’s “confession” has been widely published in the BBC, GQ, The Economist, and his personal blog. It has also evoked a number of responses claiming that Wright is, in fact, not Nakamoto. So who is right? Is Craig Wright the person behind the alias of Satoshi Nakamoto? We decided to put on our detective caps and unravel the mystery ourselves.
So Where Do We Start?
Unlike other alter ego revelations, the hunt for Satoshi Nakamoto’s true identity has involved numerous individuals who were speculated to be the inventor of Bitcoin, but so far every likely candidate has denied it. To this day, the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto remains one of the great mysteries of the internet.
Wright is just the latest in a long line of possible candidates to be Nakamoto, though he’s the first who’s claimed to be the Bitcoin inventor himself. In support of his wild claims, Wright has offered a range of evidence connecting himself to the elusive programmer, and even has endorsements from other individuals behind Bitcoin confirming his claims. So what are the pieces of evidence? And do they all stack up?
1. Blog Posts Preceding the Release of Bitcoin
One of the earliest and most straightforward pieces of evidence suggesting that Wright is Nakamoto is a collection of posts from the former’s personal blog, mentioning the impending release of Bitcoin before the cryptocurrency was actually released.
Unfortunately for Wright, this piece of evidence was quite easily debunked. Several reports indicate that Wright’s posts were backdated to give off the impression that Wright had information about Bitcoin before its release. The posts, unsurprisingly, have since been deleted from Wright’s blog.
2. Wright’s Academic and Personal History
Creating Bitcoin was no mean feat and hints at the cryptographic genius of Nakamoto. Many have since speculated that Wright’s impressive list of academic achievements makes him a good candidate to be the father of Bitcoin. According to his now-deleted Linkedin profile, Wright holds a Ph.D. in computer science from Sydney’s Charles Sturt University, served as a lecturer and subject coordinator at the University, and even developed a masters degree course in digital forensics for the school.
Or not. Forbes received a statement from CSU in December 2015 stating that
“Wright has not been awarded a Ph.D. from CSU”.
The university also declined to confirm Wright’s other accomplishments at CSU, which raises questions about the credibility of his other claims. Furthermore, Wright was previously the center of an investigation by the Australian Tax Office, which began after the entrepreneur launched a suspicious claim for millions of dollars in tax credits. All together, Wright’s chequered history does not inspire much confidence that he is the founder of a cryptocurrency that is predicated on accountability and security.
3. A Digital Signature from Nakamoto
However, the fact Wright made dubious claims about himself in the past does not immediately guarantee that his current claim is also false. To decide that, we must look at the proof he presented to demonstrate he is the creator of Bitcoin.
Wright allegedly created a digital signature and added it to a speech by Nobel Prize-winning author and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. The success of Wright’s proof hinges on the idea that the digital signature was made using a cryptographic key that could only be in Nakamoto’s possession.
So does Wright’s proof work? The consensus from computer security and cryptocurrency circles is a resounding “no”. The signature presented by Wright as proof was not attached to a piece of writing by Sartre, but simply a signature from a 2009 Bitcoin transaction by Nakamoto. In other words, Wright took an existing digital signature and presented it as a new one to prove his identity as Nakamoto.
Others have claimed that Wright’s proof is needlessly complicated and, in principle, not open to validation. They accuse Wright of intentionally presenting a convoluted proof to fool less tech-savvy members of the press and public when a much simpler proof would suffice. As a Bitcoin core developer has stated, Wright only needs to provide a signature, known to be Nakamoto’s, on the message “Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto,” instead of “photocopying someone else’s signature on a publically available document and claiming it’s proof you are them.”
Wright has since responded to his skeptics, claiming he will transfer “bitcoin from an early block” and present a series of independently verifiable proofs “over the coming days.” However, some experts are adamant that even moving money from an early block is not sufficient, and Wright would not be able to prove his case unless he was able to move a coin from bitcoin’s first group of transactions (known as the Genesis block) or sign a message with the private key from that block.
The Jury’s In, and Wright Is Almost Certainly Not Satoshi Nakamoto
All in all, the evidence does not seem to stack in Wright’s favor. But the man himself does not appear to be troubled by the situation, stating
“I don’t want money, I don’t want fame, I don’t want adoration. I just want to be left alone… I will never, ever be on camera ever again.”
As we reach the end of this week-long controversy, it is almost certain that Craig Wright is not Satoshi Nakamoto. But the questions remain: who is Satoshi Nakamoto? Where is Nakamoto now? Will the next candidate claiming to be him/her/them present a more compelling case? Only time will tell.