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This Australian businessman created either Bitcoin or a massive hoax

This Australian businessman created either Bitcoin or a massive hoax

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There's a new candidate for the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous founder of Bitcoin. Reporters and Bitcoin aficionados have long looked for Nakamoto, who authored the initial specification for Bitcoin and participated in its early governance before disappearing from the community in 2011. Now, new reports in Wired and Gizmodo turn the spotlight on Craig Steven Wright, an Australian info-security professional who has been completely absent from the speculation thus far. The reports stop just shy of definitively naming Wright as Nakamoto, but position him as a leading candidate who has thus far been ignored.

The case for Wright relies on a cache of emails and other documents leaked to Wired and Gizmodo, although the authenticity of that cache is still very much in question. The emails paint a portrait of someone deeply involved cryptocurrency while often trying to hide his own involvement. One email shows Wright contemplating a Bitcoin-like currency as early as June 2008, while another seems to establish something called the Tulip Trust, which would contain Nakamoto's known store of 1 million bitcoin. Blog posts written by Wright in 2008 and 2009 also refer to the creation of Bitcoin, with one even including a public PGP key linked with Nakamoto — although archives of the post suggest the relevant sections of the post may have been added years later.

More questions than answers

Reached by Gizmodo, Wright's wife confirmed that he worked on digital currency ideas earlier in his life, although the word Bitcoin wasn't used. Gizmodo also reached Ira Kleiman, a brother of one of Wright's close friends, who claims that Wright told him he was involved in the creation of Bitcoin. But while the statements are intriguing, neither definitively rules out the possibility of a hoax.

The result leaves us with more questions than answers. If the documents and emails are genuine, it's likely that Wright is Nakamoto, or was at least centrally involved in Bitcoin's initial conception. Still, it's entirely possible that the evidence is a hoax. Both reports rely on leaked documents from an unknown source, and there's very little in the cache that could not be faked. There's firm evidence for Wright's involvement in the Bitcoin world more broadly: documents show him investing $23 million in a firm called Hotwire and his LinkedIn page has him working for a "pre-IPO Australian listed company focused on alternative currency" for the past year. But evidence for earlier involvement in the protocol is still largely speculation.

Guessing at Nakamoto's identity has stirred up trouble in the past. In 2014, a Newsweek cover story alleged that Bitcoin's founder was a California resident named Dorian Nakamoto, as determined through an extensive "forensic reporting" process. The piece was later discredited, and is now the subject of an ongoing defamation lawsuit between Nakamoto and the publication. More recently, New York Times reporter Nathaniel Popper named Bitcoin developer Nick Szabo as the most likely candidate, although he stopped short of a definitive identification.

Correction: Newsweek's piece on Dorian Nakamoto was not retracted, as this article initially stated. Newsweek issued a statement standing by the reporting.