On Tuesday, Wired and Gizmodo independently reported that they had finally identified Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious creator of Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency birthed unto the world in 2009 that has minted many millionaires and confused millions of others. They say, based primarily on emails that Wired calls “leaked” and Gizmodo calls “hacked,” that the digital money’s creator is an Australian dude named Craig Wright.
What is almost as interesting as the possibility that Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto is how Wright was outed, the result of the work of a very dedicated leaker who may actually be Wright himself.
Lots of publications have alleged to have outed Satoshi before, and have listed possible names of who he might be, but Wright’s name has never appeared on that list. Australia does seem like a good place to hide given how little the world pays attention to what happens in Australia. (Sorry, mates, but it’s true.) While Wright is far from well-known in the Bitcoin community, he is not exactly a nobody, having appeared on a panel at a Bitcoin conference in October via video from London. He awkwardly answered a moderator’s query about his exact relation to Bitcoin by saying, “Ugh… I’ve been involved…. for a long time.”
After the stories were published, Wright, who looks to be associated with various Bitcoin and computer security businesses, deleted his Twitter account, which listed his location as Japan—a country associated with the pseudonym of Bitcoin’s creator.
Wired describes and Gizmodo reprints emails and never-sent drafts of years-old emails in which Wright candidly describes himself as Bitcoin’s creator. The stories also include a contract that could be evidence that Wright and his business partner, the late American Dave Kleiman, have access to the vast fortune of bitcoins mined by Satoshi Nakamoto. Those bitcoins, now worth hundreds of millions of dollars, have not been moved in years, but the contract says they would be freed up on January 1, 2020. (Mark your calendars, Bitcoin traders.)
Wired says the emails “come from an anonymous source close to Wright” while Gizmodo says they come from someone who worked with Wright who claims to have hacked him. Apparently this person was fast and loose with his leaking, because Wired and Gizmodo were not the only ones to get the leak. After the stories came out Tuesday, New York Times journalist Nathaniel Popper, author of a book about Bitcoin published in May called Digital Gold, chimed in on Twitter. He said he too got an email in October from someone who claimed Craig Wright was Satoshi Nakamoto.
Interestingly, the month before, in September, Craig Wright reviewed Popper’s book on Amazon.
Craig Wright of Australia wrote, a bit petulantly, “Always the assumption that [Satoshi Nakamoto] must be a bloody yank. The analysis of who Satoshi is is always so limited.”
So let’s recap: in September 2015, Wright was annoyed that people didn’t know who the real Nakamoto was. In October 2015, the journalist of the book he complained about gets a tip that Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto. Popper ignored the tip, saying he wasn’t convinced, in part because Wright’s LinkedIn profile says he worked with the NSA.
After a tipster gets ignored by the New York Times, in November 2015, both Gizmodo and a security researcher associated with Wired receive tips, too, from an anonymous person again insisting that Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.
This timeline of events makes it seem as though Craig Wright himself may be the anonymous tipster, having decided it was time to out himself as Bitcoin’s creator—if he indeed is. The danger in accepting tips from anonymous people is that it makes it harder to know what their real motivation might be. There are obvious incentives for an entrepreneur active in the blockchain and security space to be known as the talented developer behind Bitcoin. Since the stories came out, people have pointed to evidence that this may be an elaborately staged prank.
I reached out to Wright at several email addresses associated with him, but have not yet heard back. Tax authorities raided his office and home on Tuesday, reports the Guardian, for reasons they say are unrelated to his possibly being the creator of Bitcoin. Both Wired and Gizmodo include a little doubt in their stories about whether Craig Wright is indeed Bitcoin’s creator, with Gizmodo going so far as to say he may well be a “brilliant hoaxer.” What does seem clear though is that Craig Wright was involved in doxing himself.
Here’s Wired more polished story, published first: Bitcoin’s Creator Satoshi Nakamoto Is Probably This Unknown Australian Genius
And Gizmodo’s more thoroughly reported one, published two hours later: This Australian Says He and His Dead Friend Invented Bitcoin.
*Updated Dec. 9 with report of tax raid and evidence that outing may be a hoax.