Has the creator of bitcoin just been unmasked?

9 Dec 2015

An Australian academic's home has been raided after tech publications identified him as bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto.

A 44-year-old Australian professor’s home has been raided by police after tech publications Wired and Gizmodo published leaked documents that apparently identify him as the creator of the financial phenomenon that is bitcoin.

The academic and tech entrepreneur Craig Wright was identified based on investigations by Gizmodo and Wired that were based on leaked transcripts of legal interviews and files.

It is understood that up to a dozen police personnel arrived at Wright’s home in Sydney and searched the house, but mysteriously stated that the raid had nothing to do with bitcoin.

“The AFP can confirm it has conducted search warrants to assist the Australian Taxation Office at a residence in Gordon and a business premises in Ryde, Sydney,” it stated.

“This matter is unrelated to recent media reporting regarding the digital currency bitcoin.”

Wright and his wife are understood to have disappeared from the suburban street in recent days, ostensibly with plans to move to London.

Who is bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto?

The identity of the creator of bitcoin – enigmatically known as Satoshi Nakamoto – is a mystery, although in the past year or two various prestigious publications including The New York Times, Fast Company and The New Yorker have claimed to identify the person with disastrous consequences, including a car chase and various legal threats.

According to Wired, the first evidence pointing to Wright appeared in November when an anonymous source close to him began leaking documents to an independent security researcher and dark web analyst called Gwern Branwen.

This “evidence” includes a white paper Wright published on his personal website in 2008 outlining his plans to publish a cryptocurrency paper.

A second piece of evidence relates to a request to fellow enthusiasts to encrypt their messages to him using a PGP key linked to Satoshi Nakamoto.

It also points to a now-deleted blog post from Wright in 2009 that reads “The Beta of bitcoin is live tomorrow. This is decentralised… We try until it works.”

Wright is also understood to have turned up via Skype at a Bitcoin Investor’s Conference in Las Vegas to take part in a panel discussion but no one in the audience, nor the panel’s moderator, knew why he was there, according to Wired.

Gizmodo’s report points to Wright but also Dave Kleiman, an American computer forensics expert who died in 2013. Gizmodo had been given a set of hacked files from an Outlook account belonging to Wright that indicated communications between himself and Klieman, a US Army veteran who lived in Palm Beach, Florida.

Kleiman was confined to a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident in 1995 and became a reclusive computer forensics obsessive. He died penniless and in squalor.

According to documents seen by Gizmodo, Kleiman may have possessed a bitcoin trust worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Bitcoin has become a financial phenomenon. An encrypted currency, it started circulating in 2009 and grew in value to $1,200 per coin by 2013. While its value has diminished, an industry of wallets and exchanges has grown up around bitcoin that gives it a vestige of legitimacy and the number of users and enthusiasts is understood to be around 5m.

The identity of the creator of bitcoin has never been revealed but, if it ever is confirmed, its creator could be lauded as one of the greatest computer scientific minds of our time.

Bitcoin image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years