This morning, students at Aston University claimed they’d narrowed down the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, to a writer named Nick Szabo.
Forty final-year forensic linguistics majors in their final year looked at similarities in language used by Satoshi in his original Bitcoin spec paper, and that used by 13 individuals “regularly referred to as suspects.”
Matches with Szabo were strongest. Dr Jack Grieve, Lecturer in Forensic Linguistics at Aston University Grieve said:
The number of linguistic similarities between Szabo’s writing and the Bitcoin paper is uncanny, none of the other possible authors were anywhere near as good of a match. We are pretty confident that out of the primary suspects Nick Szabo is the main author of the paper, though we can’t rule out the possibility that others contributed.”
In fact, this is just the latest instance the hunt for Satoshi has landed on Szabo. In December, an anonymous blogger created a WordPress site for the explicit purpose of publishing his linguistic match findings between Szabo and Satoshi.
The blogger doubled down on his claim a month ago, stating his latest research “confirms that Nick Szabo’s writing matches the Bitcoin whitepaper, not only in the expressions it uses, but also on hard-to-fabricate style metrics.”
For a while, Hilary Sargent, now with the Boston Globe, was tracking possible Satoshi candidates on her ChartGirl blog. Szabo figured on the top of her list, since, among other things, he’d written about a theoretical technology called “Bit Gold” which bears an uncanny similarity to Bitcoin.
Szabo’s personal website contains papers on a galaxy of different topics, including ones key to Bitcoin’s technology. Here’s a sample of his writing on “Formalising and Securing Relationships on Public Networks”:
All public key operation can be performed inside an unreadable hardware board or smart card on a machine with a very narrow serial-line connection (ie, it carries only a simple single-use protocol with well-verified security) to a dedicated firewall. This is economical for high traffic servers, but may be less practical for individual users. Besides better security, it has the added advantage that hardware speeds up the public key computations.
And here’s a cut from the Bitcoin spec paper:
As an additional firewall, a new key pair should be used for each transaction to keep them from being linked to a common owner. Some linking is still unavoidable with multi-input transactions, which necessarily reveal that their inputs were owned by the same owner. The risk is that if the owner of a key is revealed, linking could reveal other transactions that belonged to
the same owner.
Szabo may be hiding in plain sight. Gavin Andresen, one of Bitcoin’s core developers, told BI in an email that he attended the Princeton Bitcoin conference with Szabo in March. BI has tried calling and emailing numerous phone numbers and addresses associated with Szabo over the past few months, to no avail.
In November 2011, Wired’s Benjamin Wallace said Szabo had denied it, though it was unclear where and how this occurred. Szabo’s most explicit disavowal came in a May 2011 blog post, where he wrote the following on the advent of Bitcoin and what made it special:
Myself, Wei Dai, and Hal Finney were the only people I know of who liked the idea (or in Dai’s case his related idea) enough to pursue it to any significant extent until Nakamoto (assuming Nakamoto is not really Finney or Dai). Only Finney (RPOW) and Nakamoto were motivated enough to actually implement such a scheme.
Finney, who was the first person to ever receive Bitcoins from Satoshi, explicitly denied being Satoshi. Correspondence between Dai and Satoshi has been catalogued, and Dai has twice stated he does not believe Szabo is Satoshi.
One individual who did not feature on that list is Dorian Nakamoto, the elderly California man fingered in a Newsweek cover story as Satoshi. In March, that Nakamoto submitted a letter reiterating his claims in an AP interview that he was not Satoshi. Newsweek has not formally retracted the story, but did append the letter to the story’s web version.
In an exclusive comment emailed to Business Insider, Dorian Nakamoto’s lawyer, Ethan Kirschner, hammered the publication for using weak evidence and bringing unwanted attention to his client:
Even a cursory review of the record shows that Satoshi was incredibly careful about preserving his anonymity. I don’t believe Newsweek actually thought they got the right guy. It was drive-by journalism in an effort to relaunch their print edition with a splash. As interest in Bitcoin grows, Satoshi’s anonymity is increasingly impacting others. Dorian Nakamoto isn’t the first person to be falsely accused of inventing Bitcoin, though he may be the first private person to have the details of his life, including his health history and unemployment, in a national newsmagazine. Hal Finney, an early Bitcoiner and another subject of press speculation, was apparently the victim of an extortion attempt.”
The Bitcoin community remains almost violently opposed to any outside effort to out Satoshi. He is often referred to simply as “the creator.” Leah McGrath Goodman, who reported the Newsweek story, received threats on reddit.
At the same time, Kirschner noted Satoshi has so far enjoyed the resources to protect himself.
But it seems like the pressure for Satoshi to out himself will not go away.