Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto?
It’s Halloween 2008.
One of the enduring mysteries of technology, cryptocurrency, and the internet is about to announce himself, herself, or themselves to the world by posting a white paper to an internet mailing list for cryptography geeks.
The subject of the post is “I’ve been working on a new electronic cash system that’s fully
peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party.”
What follows in the body of the post is a description of what’s in the white paper and the electronic cash system it lays out for the first time. Then there’s an abstract and a link to the full paper, which all this time later is still live, and then—a signature.
Big deal, right? Someone posted an academic-sounding white paper to a mailing list for cryptography nerds. As it turns out, it actually was kind of a big deal because the electronic cash system described in the paper was Bitcoin. You’ve probably heard of it.
But you may not have heard of its creator Satoshi Nakamoto and the paper that laid out Bitcoin and the underlying blockchain technology, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System ” that he, she, or they published that Halloween day all the way back in 2008.
And who could blame you? It’s not like Bitcoin is like a lot of other technologies with celebrity founders and CEOs who dropped out of Ivy League colleges to change the world.
Another reason you may not know the name: nobody really knows who Satoshi Nakamoto is.
Or do they?
Why is Nakamoto Such a Big Deal?
As of December 16, 2019 bitcoin is currently trading at $7,101.28 per coin according to Coindesk. And to think, it all started with a couple pizzas and a coin that was worth practically nothing in 2010 .
Some Million-Dollar Pizzas Make Bitcoin History
On May 22, 2010, programmer Laszlo Hanyecz spent 10,000 Bitcoins on two pizzas. At the time, Bitcoin was worth less than a penny.
It’s widely regarded as one of the first real-world purchases made with Bitcoin. In today’s value of around $8,000 a share, that amount of Bitcoin would be worth around $80 million. Hanyecz’s transaction lives on in the form of Bitcoin Pizza Day, celebrated annually by Bitcoin enthusiasts.
While these pizzas are a famous Bitcoin purchase, the very first Bitcoin transaction was a quick trade between Nakamoto and a software engineer named Hal Finney .
It’s this transaction that leads a lot of people to believe Finney might actually be the person behind Nakamoto.
So Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto?
There are a couple reasons some folks think Hal Finney was Satoshi Nakamoto (Finney died in 2014 of Lou Gehrig’s disease).
The first, and kind of obvious, clue a lot of people latched onto was that Finney was the first person to receive Bitcoin from someone else. And that someone just happened to be Satoshi Nakamoto. It might have been like sending yourself an email from a new email account to make sure everything works.
Then there’s the tweet. On January 10, 2009, Finney, who’s only got 41 tweets total, tweeted “Running bitcoin.”
This was the first tweet about Bitcoin. So Finney received the first Bitcoin transaction and was the first person to tweet about Bitcoin. There’s also the small matter of Finney’s career.
Finney was employee number two at the PGP Corporation . PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy, and was a cryptography company that was eventually acquired by Symantec.
You can see why a lot of people thought Finney was Satoshi Nakamoto. He had the access to Nakamoto, he was the first person to tweet about Bitcoin, and he probably had the cryptography chops based on his work at PGP.
But was he really Satoshi Nakamoto?
At least one person doesn’t think so.
What Does McAfee Know?
John McAfee, creator of antivirus software McAfee , the company he sold that still carries his name, and apparent 2020 presidential candidate , has said recently that he knows who Nakamoto is and even threatened to unmask him.
“I protected the identity of Satoshi. It’s time, though, that this be put to bed. Imposters claim to be him, we are spending time and energy in search of him—it’s a waste. Every day I will narrow down the identity of Satoshi until he reveals himself, or I reveal him.”
It seemed, for a short while, that McAfee planned to unmask the founder of Bitcoin in front of the world. But then his lawyer stepped in and advised McAfee against that course of action. It’s unclear if McAfee has plans to unveil what he claims to know in the future.
Why Is Everyone Still Trying to Solve the Satoshi Nakamoto Mystery?
We might never know the real identity of Satoshi Nakamoto. Maybe it was Finney and a few programmer friends. Maybe it was a coder or engineer nobody’s ever heard of. Maybe McAfee really knows who it is and will let it slip some day.
No matter what happens, there are a few billion other reasons a lot of people are looking for Nakamoto. The wallet linked to Nakamoto might have as many as 1.1 million Bitcoins in it . Depending on the value of Bitcoin at any given time, that could be a hypothetical $7.5 billion or more.
Whether the mystery remains a mystery or is brought to light, cryptocurrencies and crypto investing have come a long way from a simple white paper post on a mailing list on Halloween 2008.
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