Who is Satoshi Nakamoto, The Creator of Bitcoin?

In brief

  • Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonym adopted by the creator of Bitcoin.
  • The real identity of Satoshi Nakamoto has never been definitively proven.

Bitcoin arrived in 2008 but its creator to this day is known only by the pseudonym they chose: Satoshi Nakamoto. Many have spun up theories about who Satoshi really is—either to solve the mystery or, in some cases, to further an agenda of their own—but no one has offered a definitive answer.

Satoshi Nakamoto: what we know

The first evidence of the Bitcoin we know today turned up in August of 2008 when someone anonymously registered the domain name bitcoin.org.

In October of that year, an author who went by the moniker of Satoshi Nakamoto published the Bitcoin whitepaper, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” to metzdowd.com, a site for cryptography fans. It explained how a digital currency, which its author dubbed Bitcoin, would work.

A few months later, in January 2009, the Bitcoin network roared to life. Satoshi Nakamoto released the first version of the software that launched the network, and mined the very first Bitcoin. In the very first block of a blockchain that today consists of more than 680,000 blocks, Satoshi inscribed a text message. The message in that so-called “genesis block” reads:

‘The Times 3 January 2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks’

As well as providing a time stamp for the creation of Bitcoin, it refers to an article published by the Times newspaper. The choice of the Times has prompted speculation that Satoshi may have been based in the U.K., and that their motivation for creating Bitcoin was linked to the instability caused by fractional-reserve banking.

first ever exchange of Bitcoin took place between Satoshi Nakamoto and Hal Finney, an early pioneer of cryptography before Bitcoin.

For the next 10 days Nakamoto was the only miner, harvesting more than 1 million Bitcoin.

Satoshi was active on the bitcointalk.org forum between November 2009 and December 2010, engaging in a number of discussions with users. Their posts have been pored over by the curious hoping to glean some hints as to Satoshi’s identity and philosophy; in one of their last posts, Satoshi addresses Hal Finney directly, implying that they’re separate individuals (though that could, of course, have been a ruse).

“If you don’t believe me or don’t get it, I don’t have time to try to convince you, sorry.”

Satoshi Nakamoto

In 2010, Nakamoto handed over control of the repository containing the Bitcoin source code to Gavin Andresen, a software developer. Then, on April 23, 2011, Satoshi Nakamoto sent their last email: “I’ve moved on to other things. It’s in good hands with Gavin and everyone.”

All activity from Satoshi Nakamoto stopped soon afterwards; the Bitcoin wallets tied to Satoshi have not been accessed or spent since mid-2009. In 2014, Satoshi’s P2P Foundation account briefly reactivated to announce that “I am not Dorian Nakamoto,” rebutting a Newsweek article that named the Japanese-American man as the creator of Bitcoin. Since then, Satoshi has remained silent.

In February 2022, as part of a legal case, a cache of previously unseen emails from Satoshi Nakamoto to cypherpunk Adam Back were entered into the court record. In the emails dating from August to October 2008, Satoshi tells Back about their “interesting” proposal for what they  then termed “e-cash.” Back, in turn, suggested that Satoshi explore papers for alternative digital currency ideas including “B-money” and “Micromint.”

Days later, a second cache of emails from Satoshi to computer scientist and software developer Martti Malmi, dating from February 2009 to July 12, 2010, were released. Totalling 120 pages in all, the emails see Satoshi expressing their views on a number of issues, including Bitcoin’s energy use (which Satoshi deemed “less wasteful” than conventional banking activity) and the potential upper limit of nodes in the network (100,000). 

Notably, these emails also saw Satoshi expressing concern over explicitly labeling Bitcoin an “investment,” and arguing that “we should de-emphasize the anonymous angle,” on the grounds that it “sounds a bit shady.”

Satoshi Nakamoto: the clues

Many have tried to uncover Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity. Satoshi never spelled their name using Japanese kanji characters, making a definitive translation of the name impossible; various attempts to translate the name have included “logic, reason or justice” and “basis”, “clear thinking, quick witted, wise” and “central origin”.

One (loose) translation is “central intelligence”, with some claiming it as proof that Bitcoin is a CIA plot (though quite why the CIA would blow their cover for the sake of an in-joke is unclear).

Some have suggested that the name is an amalgam of different companies:

  • Samsung and Toshiba together makes: Satoshi
  • Nakamichi and Motorola together makes: Nakamoto

In any case, Satoshi likely wasn’t Japanese. Although a 2012 P2P Foundation profile implies that Nakamoto was a 37-year-old man living in Japan, linguistic quirks such as British English spellings and expressions (and the use of the Times in the Bitcoin genesis block) suggest that Satoshi may have been of British origin.

One researcher tracked the times that Satoshi posted on the bitcointalk.org forum, indicating a “steep decline” in posts between 5am and 11am Greenwich Mean Time (or midnight to 6am EST), possibly indicating when Satoshi was asleep. And an analysis of early Bitcoin code has indicated that Satoshi may have used a Russian proxy server to mask their identity.

The candidates

A number of names have been put forward as the possible identity of Satoshi Nakamoto. Some even think that Satoshi may have been a group of people, further muddying the waters.

Some of the possible candidates who’ve been named as Satoshi (or put their own names forward) include:

  • 👨‍🚀 Hal Finney – A cryptographer and software developer, Finney was the first recipient of Bitcoin and interacted regularly with Satoshi Nakamoto on the bitcointalk.org forum. Finney died in 2014, which some have argued explains why Satoshi’s Bitcoin hoard remains untouched. Others have disputed the idea, pointing to evidence including email timestamps and IP addresses.
  • 🔐 Gavin Andresen – The creator of the first Bitcoin faucet, Andresen was the custodian that Satoshi Nakamoto entrusted with the Bitcoin source code. In a cache of emails released in 2024, Nakamoto referred to Andresen as “responsible, professional, and technically much more Linux capable than me.”
  • 📝 Nick Szabo – A US computer scientist who created “Bit gold”, a precursor to Bitcoin, and who coined the term “smart contracts”—which form a key component of the second-largest cryptocurrency, Ethereum. Linguistic analysis has pointed to similarities between Szabo and Satoshi’s writing styles, while some have noted the coincidence of Satoshi Nakamoto’s initials being the inverse of Nick Szabo’s.
  • 👨‍💻 Adam Back – A cypherpunk and cryptographer, Back was one of the first recipients of an email from Satoshi Nakamoto, and was named as a possible Satoshi candidate by the Financial Times in 2016. Back has consistently denied the suggestion that he is Satoshi Nakamoto, something that appeared to be backed up by a cache of emails between the Bitcoin creator and Back that were made public in February 2024. 
  • 💾 Len Sassaman – a contributor to the cypherpunk mailing list where Satoshi first announced Bitcoin, Sassaman was an expert in public key cryptography and worked alongside Hal Finney. Sassaman was memorialized on the Bitcoin blockchain following his suicide in 2011.
  • 👨‍💼 Craig Steven Wright – an Australian entrepreneur who convinced the BBC, among others. Wright was involved in a lengthy court battle that hinged on his being able to access crypto addresses allegedly belonging to Satoshi Nakamoto. In March 2024, a UK judge ruled that Wright “is not the author of the Bitcoin White Paper,” nor is he “the person who adopted or operated under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto.”
  • 👨‍🔬 Dorian Nakamoto – a physicist and systems engineer based in California, Dorian’s birth name is actually “Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto”. Named as the Bitcoin creator in a 2014 Newsweek article, he has denied any connection to Bitcoin, while Satoshi’s P2P Foundation account briefly reactivated to announce that “I am not Dorian Nakamoto.” As a result of the publicity, his image appears repeatedly in Google Image searches for “Satoshi Nakamoto.”
  • 🚀 Elon Musk – The Tesla and SpaceX CEO was (briefly) considered as a possible Satoshi candidate in 2017, after a former SpaceX employee named him as the Bitcoin creator. But Musk emphatically denied it, tweeting that it was “Not true,” and that a friend had sent him “part of a BTC” but that he’d lost it. Since then, of course, Musk’s involvement with Bitcoin has ramped up, with Tesla’s acquisition of $1.6 billion in BTC.

Why has Satoshi hidden their identity?

The reasons for Satoshi Nakamoto deciding to mask their identity in the first place is also a topic of debate. One explanation relates to crypto creators’ outsize influence on the communities that spring up around their coins—Vitalik Buterin, for instance, has expressed disquiet over his own stature around Ethereum. This means Satoshi may have chosen to remain anonymous (and, eventually, walk away), so as to avoid exerting too much influence, and help Bitcoin avoid the pitfalls of centralization.

Satoshi may also have been displaying an abundance of caution—and with good reason. Given that Bitcoin has been increasingly recognized as a threat to the supremacy of central banks, they may have been concerned at painting a target on their own back. While governments might not be able to ban Bitcoin, they could certainly exert pressure on its creator to assert their sovereignty and dissuade others from following in their footsteps. It’s happened before, after all; in 2011, Bernard von NotHaus was convicted of making, possessing and selling his own private currency, the Liberty Dollar.

It’s not just lawmakers that Satoshi could be wary of, of course; law-breakers could also be very interested in the Bitcoin creator’s digital assets. Given that criminals have (violently) targeted large crypto holders in the past, and that Satoshi is by any measure one of the richest individuals in the world, they have ample reason to keep their identity under wraps.

How much Bitcoin does Satoshi have?

In the early months of Bitcoin’s existence, Satoshi Nakamoto mined as many as 1.1 million Bitcoin—a vast fortune that remains untouched to this day. As of June 2021, Satoshi’s Bitcoin stash would be worth over $40 billion; at Bitcoin’s all time high of $73,000, it would have been worth over $81 billion, making Satoshi among the richest people in the world.

Researchers have suggested that Satoshi deliberately held back from mining even more Bitcoin in the early days of the network, curbing their hash rate in order to give other miners a fair chance at blocks.

What if Satoshi returned?

The big question is, of course: what if Satoshi were to return? It’s become an article of faith among the Bitcoin community that Satoshi is gone for good, and that the mammoth stash of Bitcoin they mined is locked away forever.

Were Satoshi to return, it could have significant repercussions for Bitcoin. First, they’d have to prove their identity; possibly by moving some Bitcoin from an address confirmed as belonging to them. Then would come the realization that over a million Bitcoin previously thought to be lost forever is suddenly active again, which could have an impact on Bitcoin’s price and volatility. On previous occasions when Satoshi-era Bitcoin has unexpectedly become active, it’s sparked sell-offs and panic in the market.

Once Satoshi’s dealt with their truly enormous tax bill, there’s the question of what their return would mean for Bitcoin’s community and development. Suddenly, Satoshi’s old bitcointalk.org forum posts would no longer be the only source of authority as to their intentions; the man (or woman, or group) behind the mask would be able to make public pronouncements on the current state of Bitcoin and where it should go next (perhaps weighing in on the debate around its energy consumption).

Regardless, Satoshi continues to be a source of inspiration for the Bitcoin community. In 2021, when crypto company Coinbase went public, it sent a copy of its public filing to Satoshi’s Bitcoin address in a symbolic gesture, and encoded its own message referencing a newspaper headline in the Bitcoin blockchain.

Source: StatueofSatoshi.com

There’s even a statue erected to Satoshi, in Budapest, Hungary. The creator of Bitcoin is depicted with an anonymous, mirrored face, to reflect the viewer’s face back at them. Satoshi, it seems, is all of us.

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