Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? Part 1 – The Candidates

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Who is Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin’s creator? It is one of the great unanswered questions of modern times (to crypto fans at least), and is one that has occupied many both in and outside the space. There have been plenty of candidates for the title, and several false claims, but even after 11 years, a lack of direct evidence means that no single person has yet been solidly identified as Bitcoin’s creator.

In this two-part series, we look at the most commonly cited individuals that answer the question of who is Satoshi Nakamoto, and offer our opinion as to who we think is behind the moniker. As you might expect, the answer is not a simple one.

Paul Le Roux

Name: Paul Le Roux

Nominator: Evan Ratliff

Rationale: Paul Le Roux is certainly a character. Nominated as Bitcoin’s creator by his biographer Evan Ratliff, Le Roux is a 47-year-old former cartel boss, drug smuggler, arms dealer, and DEA informant who is currently in prison on a litany of related charges. On the other hand, he created encryption software E4M and TrueCrypt, the latter being the method probably used by Satoshi Nakamoto to lock up his millions of bitcoins.

Le Roux is also thought to be the author of a 2002 blog post that advocated “a future with virtual peer to peer banking” and called for a way for citizens to be able to transfer money without government interference. This brilliant programmer with an anarchistic streak also left the world of programming in 2011 around the same time as Satoshi Nakamoto’s last post on BitcoinTalk.

For a tough customer, Le Roux was certainly educated and well spoken, and his writing style fits with Satoshi Nakamoto’s notably close. He even once owned a passport in the name of ‘Solotshi’.

However, there are a great many gaps in Le Roux’s history where we don’t know what he was doing, and is it really likely that a man with his fingers in so many, er, pies, could dedicate so many of his years to the development of a single project?

Satoshi rating: 2/5

Shinichi Mochizuki

Name: Shinichi Mochizuki

Nominator: Ted Nelson

Rationale: Shinichi Mochizuki was suggested as a potential Satoshi Nakamoto candidate by award-winning technology pioneer Ted Nelson back in 2013. Mochizuki, currently a professor of mathematics at Kyoto University, is revered in the world of mathematics – Nelson calls him a “Newton-level genius” while Wired magazine has described him as “a mathematician with a track record of solving hard problems and a reputation for careful attention to detail.” Rarely has the concept of Bitcoin been described so eloquently.

Alongside having the ability to create Bitcoin, Mochizuki fits the bill in other ways. He doesn’t seek adulation in his work, preferring instead to adopt what Nelson calls a “Lone Ranger delivery” of his work; in 2012 he produced four fiendishly complex and potentially revolutionary mathematical papers and simply left them for others to decipher. Once they dropped, rather than boasting about how clever he was or claiming credit for them, Mochizuki simply moved onto other projects. Sound familiar?

Satoshi Rating: 3.5/5

Hal Finney

Name: Hal Finney

Nominator: Bitcoiners

Rationale: Hal Finney was the first person to receive Bitcoin on January 11, 2009, giving rise to his now legendary ‘running Bitcoin’ tweet. Finney was therefore influential in the creation of Bitcoin, leading to his name being mentioned as its creator. A cypherpunk of the 1990s, Finney came up with a version of the proof-of-work consensus mechanism used by Bitcoin, which is clearly what attracted Nakamoto to the Californian, who died in 2014.

Finney’s closeness to the project has led to some believing that Finney himself is Nakamoto, but unless Finney decided that fabricating thousands of emails was the perfect cover for the ruse, this is unlikely. Naturally, Finney has all the attributes to have created Bitcoin, but in many ways his closeness to Nakamoto precludes him from being its creator, something he always denied.

Satoshi rating: 0/5

Nick Szabo

Name: Nick Szabo

Nominator: Dominic Frisbee

Rationale: “I’ve concluded there is only one person in the whole world that has the sheer breadth but also the specificity of knowledge [to create Bitcoin] and it is this chap…” Financial author Dominic Frisbee said these words of Nick Szabo in 2014, and with good reason – Szabo, another cypherpunk, invented a Bitcoin precursor, BitGold, in 1998, years after creating the concept of the ‘smart contract’.

After the various pre-2008 incarnations of Bitcoin failed, many cypherpunks gave up the idea of a decentralized currency, but Szabo revived his BitGold idea in a May 2008 blog post, asking if anyone wanted to help create it. Five months later, the Bitcoin whitepaper was published. These factors alone put Szabo in the Satoshi Nakamoto camp, but he has, with good grace, denied the claim on every occasion since.

Szabo clearly has the chops to have created Bitcoin, and the intelligence shown in his writings matches that of Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator. Intriguingly, unlike other candidates, Szabo has never released any communications he shared with Nakamoto, and he announced his desire to take a hiatus in May 2011, the last time Satoshi Nakamoto communicated directly with the other contributors.

Szabo is a compelling Satoshi Nakamoto candidate, and his denials ring a little less hollow than some others.

Satoshi Rating: 3.5/5

Adam Back

Name: Adam Back

Nominator: Barely Sociable

Rationale: Cypherpunk Londoner and Blockstream CEO Back was one of the first to ever communicate with Satoshi Nakamoto in mid-2008, with the mystical figure clearly liking Back’s intentions behind Hashcash, another currency with a proof-of-work consensus mechanism Back developed in 1997.

YouTube channel Barely Sociable highlighted Back’s credentials in a May 2020 video, pointing to Back’s early interactions with Nakamoto, his passion behind Bitcoin, and his surprisingly good understanding of blockchain technology when he first began openly discussing it on forums.

The fact that Back was one of the first to connect with Nakamoto would seem to suggest that one could not therefore be the other, but we have no physical proof of anything either way – like Szabo, Back has never released his interactions with Nakamoto. In contrast, Barely Sociable points to similarities with Back and Nakamoto’s writing styles, right down to punctuation, and the fact that Back himself went quiet online around the time of Bitcoin’s early development and releases, the time when Satoshi Nakamoto would have been at his busiest.

Back has, naturally, denied being Satoshi Nakamoto, and in fact debated the issue with Barely Sociable on Twitter after the release, during which Back called the user a “paid agent provocateur”.

Satoshi Rating: 2/5

Craig Wright

Name: Craig Wright

Nominator: Himself

Rationale: Craig Wright was first ‘outed’ as Satoshi Nakamoto in 2015 in Wired and Gizmodo magazines, although the ‘leaked’ evidence supporting the claims was later linked to Wright himself. Wright is known to have been involved in Bitcoin in some way in the very early days and to have mined plenty of Bitcoin in 2009, but his numerous attempts to prove he is Satoshi Nakamoto have fallen flat and led to more questioning of the voracity of his claims.

Wright’s personality is very different to that displayed by Satoshi Nakamoto in his writings, to the point where they appear to be two different people. That’s because they almost certainly are.

Satoshi Rating: 0.5 star

Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

So, having presented the candidates and the evidence, who do we think is the person behind the famous Satoshi Nakamoto moniker? Part 2 of this series reveals our answer to the question ‘Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?’, an answer that may surprise you, but in the meantime why not let us know your own thoughts in the comments below.