Probably Not Wright

Unmasking Satoshi Nakamoto is the media world’s objet petit a, at least for now. Many have tried and failed, the latest being Andy Greenberg and Gwern Branwen of Wired, and Sam Biddle and Andy Cush of Gizmodo. Both exposés are brimming with confidence — Greenberg and Branwen’s is titled “Bitcoin’s Creator Satoshi Nakamoto Is Probably This Unknown Australian Genius”, while Biddle and Cush’s includes this passage:1

Writing about Satoshi Nakamoto, the Bitcoin originator’s pseudonym, is a treacherous exercise. Publications like the New York Times, Fast Company, and the New Yorker have taken unsuccessful stabs at Satoshi’s identity. In every instance, the evidence either hasn’t added up or those implicated have issued public denials. And then there was Newsweek, whose 2014 story “The Face Behind Bitcoin” is easily the most disastrous attempt at revealing the identity of Satoshi. The magazine identified a modest California engineer, whose birth name was Satoshi Nakamoto but who went by Dorian, as the creator of Bitcoin. The story resulted in a worldwide media frenzy, a car chase, and — after Dorian’s repeated denials and legal threats — a great deal of embarrassment for Newsweek.

I’m not sure if these exposés surpass Newsweek’s, in terms of how embarrassing they are, but it’s close. First, there’s the little matter of the PGP keys, so critical to both stories. Sarah Jeong, writing for Vice:

Both Wired and Gizmodo outline Wright’s qualifications and accomplishments in detail, aside from pointing to emails and other documents that seem to nail Wright as once-and-future Bitcoin king Satoshi Nakamoto.

A lot of this evidence isn’t authenticated, so there’s that. But there’s one really big problem with the case for Craig S. Wright as Satoshi: at least one of the key pieces of evidence appears to be fake. The “Satoshi” PGP keys associated with the Wired and Gizmodo stories were probably generated after 2009 and uploaded after 2011.

That seems fairly problematic for documentation that was apparently created in 2008.

Today, Gizmodo and Wired have each published separate stories acknowledging that their exposés were likely wrong; they’d been duped. Andy Cush of Gizmodo:

Since our story was published (along with subsequent profiles of both Wright and Kleiman) things have only gotten weirder. Wright’s home was raided by police due to an investigation by the Australian Tax Office that’s reportedly unrelated to Tuesday’s articles. Wright himself has pretty much disappeared. And several outlets have done even more digging to try and figure out whether Wright and Kleiman were, in fact, closely involved in creating Bitcoin.

Andy Greenberg, Wired:

Wright’s colleague Ian Grigg, a financial cryptographer whom Wright has cited as writing a paper that helped inspire Wright’s bitcoin work, wrote Wednesday on Twitter that he’d learned Wright had been hacked and extorted for money, and that the extortionist had given documents to the media (presumably meaning Wired and/or Gizmodo).

Embarrassing for the two publications that broke the news, and the countless more that failed to do their own research or verify the stories.

But this could turn out to be a far more bizarre, interesting — and, perhaps, darker — story than initially reported. Unmasking a pseudonymous Bitcoin creator satisfies a small amount of our curiosity, but telling the story of someone who has claimed to friends that he created Bitcoin and conning a bunch of reporters into believing it, despite not doing so? That’s an angle worth exploring.

  1. Biddle was very confident on Twitter and in Marketplace, but also admitted that it could be a long con. ↥︎