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Ask CryptoVantage: Is Satoshi Nakamoto a Real Person?

Not much is known about the creator of bitcoin other than their name, Satoshi Nakamoto. This isn’t their real name and it’s unknown why they chose to use this as their pseudonym. Not much is known about Satoshi – we don’t know where they came from, what their background was, or how old they were. We don’t even know if Satoshi was an individual or if they were a group working together under a single name.

Who is the shadowy figure behind the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym?

Satoshi must have had a very specific skillset, which narrows down who might have been behind the pseudonym. This article introduces some people who meet the criteria of being possible Satoshi candidates, and also explains why we should respect Satoshi’s wish to remain hidden.

Satoshi’s Origin

Satoshi’s background before bitcoin is unknown, but it’s likely they took part in the Cypherpunk movement of the 90s. The Cypherpunks were a group of computer programmers who communicated through a mailing list to use technology to preserve the freedom of individuals – they were especially focused on protecting privacy through cryptography.

The Cypherpunks mailing list was eventually derailed, driving many of its users to a new “Cryptography” mailing list. It was on this Cryptography mailing list that Satoshi Nakamoto first appeared, releasing the bitcoin whitepaper on October 31, 2008.

Possible Satoshis

Since bitcoin’s whitepaper was first posted on the Cryptography mailing list, people have been intrigued by the idea of bitcoin having a pseudonymous creator. For some reason, people are naturally inclined to attempt to figure out the true identity of Satoshi.

In this article, I’m not going to provide any evidence or suggest any arguments for who might be Satoshi – I’ll explain why in the last section. I will, however, quickly introduce some of the people who are often accused of being Satoshi, even though the accusations are likely wrong.

  • Hal Finney was a computer scientist and Cypherpunk who was instrumental in the development of PGP, an early implementation of public-key cryptography. Finney also created a digital cash system before bitcoin was created, and was one of the first people to develop and use the bitcoin software. The first bitcoin transaction was sent from Satoshi to Finney.
  • Adam Back is a computer scientist and Cypherpunk, and is also the inventor of hashcash. Hashcash is a “proof-of-work” system that requires users’ computer processors to do some computational work as a way of reducing spam in applications such as email. Back is fairly famous in bitcoin because he is the founder and CEO of Blockstream, one of the biggest contributors to bitcoin’s development.
  • Nick Szabo, like Finney and Back, is a computer scientist, Cypherpunk, and had previously designed a digital cash system. Szabo’s idea for digital cash, bit gold, was only released as a whitepaper and was never implemented. Szabo has a deep understanding of the history of money and how it works.

Keeping Satoshi Pseudonymous

There are good reasons for Satoshi posting the bitcoin whitepaper under a pseudonym. There are both legal and security risks involved with creating a new type of money outside the control of governments. If the creator of bitcoin used their real name, it would make them an easy target for a government trying to stop bitcoin. It would also make it easy for thieves to find and extort Satoshi to steal their suspected large stash of bitcoins.

Speculating about who Satoshi really is could end up endangering them if their true identity came to light. Additionally, speculations about Satoshi that are incorrect unnecessarily put someone else at risk of being extorted for funds they don’t even control. For these reasons, and out of respect for Satoshi’s wishes, I suggest people respect Satoshi’s pseudonymity and accept that we may never know the true identity of bitcoin’s creator.