Like many of my friends who are the resident Bitcoin experts within their social circle, I was woken up this morning to the tune of about two dozen text messages and alerts letting me know about Newsweek Magazine’s post that allegedly reveals the long-secret identity of Satoshi Nakamoto.
For the uninitiated, Satoshi Nakamoto is the initial designer of the Bitcoin protocol and reference wallet, and has long been assumed to be a pseudonym. Nakamoto contributed code to Bitcoin’s open source repository up through mid-2010, right around the time my awareness of the project began.
As he faded his involvement in Bitcoin, he gave the public blessing of Gavin Andresen to be the figurehead and control of the source code repository. Other key assets that he retained were turned over to other rising players in what would become the Bitcoin Foundation.
Satoshi retained ownership of (and this is key) around a million Bitcoins. At today’s spot price, that’s well over half a billion dollars.
Will the Real Satoshi Nakamoto please stand up?
Dozens of bloggers over the years have tilted at the windmill of attempting to determine the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, most recently a researcher named Skye Grey who used digital forensics to make a convincing case that Satoshi Nakamoto was a computer scientist and law school professor named Nick Szabo (Nick later denied it to Wired).
A Redditor used similar methodology seven months earlier to show evidence that Satoshi Nakamoto was a peer to Szabo named Michael Reiter, a computer science professor at UNC.
As I sat down to write this post, I even vaguely recalled that Bitcoin Magazine did a story on Satoshi for their innagural issue. I had to go dig up my copy of issue #1. The article entitled “Being Satoshi,” by Vitalik Buterin, and if I recall correctly was billed as a bit of an exposé, but in practice was more of a textual documentary of Satoshi’s diminishing presence in the community and the few instances where he’d stated his personal philosophies and motivations.
That brings up to today. Newsweek Magazine’s Leah McGrath Goodman has spent the last several weeks cyberstalking a man she believes to be Satoshi Nakamoto, but who goes by the name of “Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto.”
“Doxxing” Satoshi is a bit of a bloodsport for those in the Bitcoin community, and almost every time a serious attempt at finding Satoshi, it’s uniformly met with the same derision. As a whole, the community, while intensely fascinated with his philosophy and motivations wants his wish for privacy to be respected.
I’m disappointed Newsweek decided to dox the Nakamoto family, and regret talking to Leah.
— Gavin Andresen (@gavinandresen) March 6, 2014
Anyone that took a moment to consider the facts would know this ahead of any effort they made to unmask Satoshi. Satoshi himself talked a lot about the value of privacy, and values his own privacy so much that at the peak of the China bitcoin bubble valuation sat on top of over a billion in liquid assets. Assuming that Satoshi still has access to his fortune (and hasn’t destroyed the private keys), his privacy is so valuable to him, he’d forgo a billion dollars in liquid assets. The world can see Satoshi’s wallet. Assuming the private keys still exist, all his assets are liquid.
Is the report correct, though?
Aside from the question of whether or not Satoshi should be unmasked, there exists the question whether or not Leah McGrath Goodman’s gumshoe work paid off, or if she has just brought the world to the doorstep of a hapless man who shares the name of the creator of the Bitcoin protocol.
There have been a number of key points that bring Goodman’s record of accounts into question, and chief among them are:
1) Why would a man who encrypts all his messages and put the price tag on his personal privacy at over $1B sign every message with his real name?
and 2) Where is the smoking gun that this is truly Satoshi Nakamoto?
There is a lot of re-telling of conversations that allegedly happened between Goodman and members of the Nakamoto family, including the conversation with Dorian/Satoshi himself, some time between cops being called and cops arriving.
“I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it,” he says, dismissing all further queries with a swat of his left hand. “It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”
Goodman’s version of events is just … odd. The cop knows who Satoshi is, without any explanation? Dorian Nakamoto admits to being the Bitcoin founder after calling the cops over a trespasser? This aspect of the storytelling really beggars belief.
The rest of the story hangs together, at least how Goodman tells it. In Goodman’s retelling of the story, Dorian/Satoshi Nakamoto has gaps in his career that match up with the times he would have been working on creating Bitcoin. Dorian/Satoshi was very secretive, apparently even to his closest family members, which jives with someone who puts a $1 billion price-tag on his privacy.
Other than his statements made to Goodman, which could have conceivably have been confused with a conversation on the topic of his job (or whatever else he may have thought she was harassing him about) there is no evidence provided by the Newsweek piece that can be independently verified.
Digital Forensics on Dorian Nakamoto
Then there’s the case of Dorian Nakamoto’s digital profile, which seems to have absolutely nothing in common with Satoshi Nakamoto’s digital profile, either in content nor style.
The Bitcoin community has been rapidly assembling the digital trail of Dorian Nakamoto from simple Google searches, in attempts to reconcile some aspect of Dorian’s persona with Satoshi’s.
Compare the expertly written forum posts on BitcoinTalk and the original Bitcoin whitepaper written by Satoshi to a review by Dorian of a tin of Royal Danish Butter Cookies on Amazon:
royal danish butter cookies in a big 4lb round blue tin can
it has lots of buttery taste.
the shipment went well. i’ve had a nice comment from
my kids. it’s a perfect xmas and i would say, for
While difficult, it’s not inconceivable that an individual could develop multiple writing styles to obfuscate his identity between multiple personas. What is harder to believe is that the same mind who can construct brilliant ideas, designs and philosophical defenses has a hard time constructing readable sentences when talking about cookies.
So what do you really think? Who is Dorian Nakamoto?
I am not saying it’s impossible Dorian is Satoshi of Bitcoin.
I am saying the behaviors and mannerisms described by Goodman are conceivably consistent with the behaviors and mannerisms of a 64-year-old man who is known to be reclusive, privacy obsessed, worked on classified government projects, and had a stroke three months prior.
“Doxxing” Dorian in public was irresponsible journalism, plain and simple. The smoking gun simply isn’t there, and if he were Satoshi of Bitcoin, Goodman has put out a billion dollar bounty on his head. Many of the worlds’ billionaires live modestly and roam without bodyguards and security, but few of them have their billions in liquid assets.
On the other hand, Satoshi Nakamoto does and therefore a bad actor has a billion dollar incentive (as well as, ostensibly, the home address for the assets) to forcibly take them.
Towards the end of Goodman’s piece, she mentions that Dorian Nakamoto denied being involved with Bitcoin when his son asked. Imagine the same post with this headline: “California senior has same last name as Bitcoin inventor, but denies involvement.”
The story would hardly have been worth publishing.