Monday, November 20, 2023

Who is the real Satoshi Nakamoto? Scientist fights to prove he’s bitcoin creator


Who is the real Satoshi Nakamoto? Scientist fights to prove he’s bitcoin creator

The true identity of the inventor of the cryptocurrency bitcoin is one of the biggest mysteries of the digital age.
While rumours have spread for more than a decade, only one thing is certain: the shadowy creator (or creators) has gone by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto.
But the question is not just a matter of intrigue for the tech geeks, because the creator is also the rightful owner of a bitcoin treasure chest worth some £31.5 billion — potentially making the person behind the mask one of the richest people in the world.
Which may be one of the reasons Craig Wright, a 53-year-old Australian computer scientist who lives in Surrey, is going to huge lengths to prove he is Nakamoto.
However, there is a catch: Wright has repeatedly refused or failed to provide technical evidence to back up his claim.
Now some of the most powerful businessmen in the tech industry, including the billionaire Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, are involved in legal action to prove that he is not the creator.
Jack Dorsey said last week that he had “witnessed first-hand the challenges and legal obstacles that bitcoin developers face”
Jack Dorsey said last week that he had “witnessed first-hand the challenges and legal obstacles that bitcoin developers face”
To his detractors Wright may be trying to pull off an elaborate hoax in the hope of getting his hands on the Nakamoto billions and the copyright to the bitcoin blockchain technology so he can charge developers for its use.
Wright has sued those who dispute his claim. In January the increasingly hostile row will head to the High Court in London, where a judge will attempt to answer the question that has dogged the crypto world for years: is Wright who he says he is?

The birth of bitcoin

The genesis of the dispute dates to 2008, when a white paper published under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto proposed the idea of a “peer to peer electronic cash system”. Bitcoin was introduced to the world the following year. 
The ethos was intended to be anti-authoritarian and libertarian — removing third-party intermediaries from financial transactions.
About 1.1 million of the original bitcoins were said to belong to Nakamoto.
Bitcoin owners have a private “key”, a password that can be stored on a hard drive, which proves their ownership and lets them move the cryptocurrency.
The keys are unique and cannot be replaced, as James Howells, from Newport, south Wales, discovered when, in 2013, he threw out a hard drive only to discover it held the key to what at today’s price would be £241 million in bitcoin. He has spent almost a decade scouring a local tip to try to find it.
As bitcoin became more popular and grew in value, so the myths about Nakamoto grew. Under the pseudonym, Nakamoto would correspond with bitcoin’s early users by email until about 2011, when the messages stopped and the mysterious “inventor” disappeared from public view.
Then, in 2015, two journalists reported that Wright was Nakamoto. At the same time, his bungalow in Sydney was raided by investigators from the Australian Taxation Office — it is not known what the investigation was about. Wright, who denied wrongdoing, moved to England and the following year began claiming he was Nakamoto.
Dr Craig Wright lives in a £3 million mansion in a gated neighbourhood in the footballers’ enclave of Cobham
Dr Craig Wright lives in a £3 million mansion in a gated neighbourhood in the footballers’ enclave of Cobham
Born in Brisbane, Wright grew up in a “difficult” home and is said to have had few friends. In his teenage years he would while away much of his time playing Dungeons and Dragons or dressing up as a samurai because of his love of Japanese culture. He joined the Royal Australian Air Force at 18, where he worked on computer coding, and later lectured at universities. He claims to have completed more than 20 university degrees as well as becoming a registered pastor, and was awarded a doctorate in 2003.
Since being unmasked and then embracing his identity as the “creator of bitcoin”, Wright, who lives in a £3 million mansion in a gated neighbourhood in the footballers’ enclave of Cobham, has faced frequent calls to produce evidence of his claim — such as showing he has the keys to Nakamoto’s bitcoins.
But he has insisted he cannot do so; in a court case he claimed that in 2016 he had stamped on a hard drive containing a password needed to access the private keys.

Aggressive courtroom battles

A number of legal cases have ensued, and as the value of bitcoin has soared by 13,200 per cent since 2015 — each bitcoin was worth nearly £30,000 this weekend — the battle has become more toxic.
Last year Wright sued Peter McCormack, a prominent crypto blogger from Bedford, for defamation after he posted a string of tweets in 2019 saying Wright was not Nakamoto.
Wright won the case but was awarded only nominal damages of £1 because the judge ruled he had given “deliberately false evidence” in support of his claim.
Wright’s appeal on the amount of damages was dismissed. Speaking last week, McCormack said: “I have been in five years of litigation, which has been unbelievably expensive, stressful and cost more than £1 million, against an aggressive litigant who has spent a fortune trying to win this lawsuit.
“I have been in hospital twice with massive panic attacks and I’ve had the risk of losing everything — the house, the car, the business. It’s been hell.”
Wright has also attempted to sue Magnus Granath, a blogger known as Hodlonaut, who called him a “fraud” on Twitter/X. Granath — to avoid a costly UK libel trial — countersued in his native Norway and won, with a judge ruling the comments were protected by freedom of speech.
Wright is now attempting to use the British courts to sue bitcoin developers and companies for infringing his copyright over bitcoin and the white paper he says he wrote.
Four cases remain on hold until the High Court’s ruling in the January hearing on what has been termed “the identity issue” — whether or not Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto. That case has been brought by the Cryptocurrency Open Patent Alliance (Copa) — a group of tech firms founded by the financial services company Block, owned by Dorsey — which alleges that the development of new technology is being hampered by Wright’s claims to be the inventor of bitcoin. Another member of Copa is Mark Zuckerberg.

Gambling billionaire backer

Last month Wright was dealt a painful blow in the case when Mr Justice Mellor ruled that the court could hear arguments that dozens of documents put forward by Wright purporting to show the development of bitcoin might be forgeries.
As part of their argument that Wright has a history of forging documents, the Copa team will allege that a PhD thesis submitted by Wright to Northumbria University in 2008 was heavily plagiarised from two 1990s works by an academic.
Dorsey said last week that he had “witnessed first-hand the challenges and legal obstacles that bitcoin developers face”.
He added: “These talented individuals are shaping the future of finance and technology, and they deserve the freedom to innovate without the constant threat of legal action. By providing legal support, we can help them focus on what really matters: building technologies that will create a better future for all of us.”
Dorsey is also funding the defence in a case brought by Wright’s Tulip Trading Ltd company, via the “bitcoin legal defence fund” he set up in 2021.
Wright, for his part, is being backed by the gambling billionaire Calvin Ayre. The Canadian, who founded the online betting site Bodog, is the son of a drug-dealing pig farmer and was once on the run from the US authorities over an alleged illegal gambling operation. He pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanour charge in 2017.
Ayre, a passionate defender of Wright, has invested heavily in his work and took a controlling interest in the tech company nChain in a deal worth more than £400 million earlier this year. Wright is a consultant for the company and was formerly its “chief scientist”.
The pair are linked to Sir Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary, through a cryptocurrency called bitcoin satoshi vision (BSV), an offshoot of bitcoin endorsed by Wright and Ayre.
Buckland and Lord Currie, a former chairman of the Competition and Markets Authority, are working for a company set up to investigate claims that four cryptocurrency exchanges “colluded” to delist BSV in 2019. Currie is the company’s sole director and Buckland is an “adviser” and former director.
He is paid £5,000 every quarter for about 18 hours’ work. It is funded by one of Ayre’s companies.

Is he really Satoshi Nakamoto?

Wright declined to respond to questions about January’s hearing. But a spokesman said: “Dr Wright has resorted to litigation simply to end the harassment he has suffered over the years since he was independently outed as Satoshi by a tech publication in 2015 and to protect and uphold his interests in his life’s work — the creation and adoption of bitcoin.
“It should further be noted that the Copa trial in January arises from a claim being brought by Copa against Dr Wright, which he is defending, not initiating.”
The spokesman also referred to a 2021 court case in which a Miami jury ordered that Wright pay $100 million to the family of a former business partner for intellectual property infringement. The judge ruled that Wright would not have to hand over any of the 1.1 million original bitcoin, which the deceased business partner’s family claimed they were owed because of his alleged help in creating the currency.
Wright hailed this as a “vindication” — a court, as he saw it, recognising that he was the owner of the original bitcoin and, therefore, Satoshi Nakamoto.
Ian Taylor, from the trade association Crypto UK, hopes January’s hearing will finally settle the issue once and for all.

“My sense is that bitcoin is the work of many people from many different areas of expertise, and that, for me, is one of the most interesting things about it,” he said. “It combines computer science, economic game theory and number theory. Is Wright an expert on all those things? Not necessarily. Did he contribute a little bit? Possibly. Let’s get a judgment to find out — and move on.”