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One of the Internet’s great mysteries has risen out of the Internet abyss and reared its strange head once again.
Australian businessman Craig Wright says he is Satoshi Nakamoto, the enigmatic creator of Bitcoin. This follows accusations in December 2015 that Wright was the cryptocurrency’s famous—and famously anonymous—designer. The identity of Nakamoto has been the focus of dogged questions since his research paper outlining the currency first appeared in 2008.
Both incidents have been met with sharp skepticism, with critics pointing out crucial holes in Wright’s story.
Major media outlets like the BBC, the Economist, and GQ reported Wright’s new claim after he offered up cryptographically signed messages meant to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was Nakamoto.
“Some people will believe, some people won’t,” Wright told the BBC. “To tell you the truth, I don’t really care.”
Indeed, the reaction to Wright’s claims is divided at best. And given that he proactively took such a life-changing step, it’s difficult to believe that the Australian man simply doesn’t care if people believe him.
Last December, Wright was widely accused of being an elaborate hoaxer shortly after journalists first reported links between him and Nakamoto. Skeptics noted his fraudulent academic degrees and his false claims of using supercomputers to create Bitcoin.
Wright’s new claims immediately reignited a confusing and contentious debate over the origins of Bitcoin.
To prove his identity, Wright “digitally signed messages using cryptographic keys created during the early days of Bitcoin’s development,” the BBC reported.
For public proof, Wright posted a cryptographic signature in his blog post. But almost immediately, Reddit’s Bitcoin community raised red flags. The signature isn’t what it claims to be—irrefutable proof, a mathematical signature from Nakamoto of a new message posted on Wright’s blog.
Instead, Wright provided a signature from inside a 2009 Nakamoto Bitcoin transaction.
Gavin Andresen, the chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation, wrote a blog post early Monday saying he believed Wright was in fact Nakamoto—a strong endorsement that could significantly influence the debate over Wright’s claims.
But a few hours later, core members of the Bitcoin team worried that Andresen had been hacked and removed his privileged access to Bitcoin’s codebase.
But then Andresen posted on Reddit several hours later to confirm that Wright had personally proved his identity by digitally signing a custom message.
Thus, the storm of debate over Nakamoto’s identity and Wright’s claims continued. Andresen’s blog post predicted—and Wright himself knew—that such a debate was inevitable.
“We love to create heroes–but also seem to love hating them if they don’t live up to some unattainable ideal,” Andresen wrote. “It would be better if Satoshi Nakamoto was the codename for an NSA project, or an artificial intelligence sent from the future to advance our primitive money. He is not, he is an imperfect human being just like the rest of us. I hope he manages to mostly ignore the storm that his announcement will create, and keep doing what he loves– learning and research and innovating.”
Theories abound that Wright or someone else may be using this confusion as a means of enriching themselves. After all, the real Nakamoto, whoever he or she is, has amassed at least $400 million in Bitcoin.
But those theories haven’t been proven at all. They remain conjecture, albeit increasingly popular conjecture.
The firestorm surrounding Wright’s new comments is yet another strange marker in Bitcoin’s history—one more unproven, largely unembraced claim to Nakamoto’s throne.
It’s likely that more will emerge in the next few days to either support or undermine Wright’s claims, but if Bitcoin’s six-year history is any indication, we may never get a definitive answer to the question, “Who is the real Satoshi Nakamoto?”
Patrick Howell O'Neill is a notable cybersecurity reporter whose work has focused on the dark net, national security, and law enforcement. A former senior writer at the Daily Dot, O'Neill joined CyberScoop in October 2016. I am a cybersecurity journalist at CyberScoop. I cover the security industry, national security and law enforcement.