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Bitcoin Experts Don’t Believe Australian Craig Wright Is Satoshi

One of the Bitcoin's strongest voices has endorsed him—but almost no one else will

Money
Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
May 02, 2016 at 6:44 PM ET

Despite two high profile endorsements for the claim that eccentric Australian computer scientist and entrepreneur Craig Wright is “Satoshi Nakamoto,” the true inventor of bitcoin, attendees at Consensus, the cryptocurrency’s largest conference, aren’t really convinced.

When bitcoin was invented in 2009, the concept was initially presented on cryptography message boards by a user named Satoshi Nakamoto, which has since come to be widely accepted as a pseudonym for one or several developers behind the cryptocurrency’s creation. Wright is far from the first person to have been suspected to be Satoshi—there are literally dozens of other candidates, and magazines like Wired, Newsweek and the New Yorker have all published stories naming different candidates. Wright is the first, however, to receive the outright endorsement of Gavin Andresen, the chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation and an early bitcoin developer who communicated with Satoshi.

Satoshi, whoever he is, mined the first bitcoins, which have never been sent to anyone else. Transactions using the cryptocurrency are, by definition, public—every time a bitcoin has changed hands, that transaction is recorded on a public ledger known as the blockchain. One way Wright could prove his identity would be to send one of those early coins to a different address. Instead, he chose to send a message to Andresen using the private cryptographic signature—an identifier comprised of a public half and a private half, like an email address and its password—already associated with those coins.

The problem with that as a standard of proof, however, is that it’s possible—easy, even—to fake it. Dan Kaminsky, one of bitcoin’s most influential testers and writers, wrote that all Wright actually has proven is that he possesses the part of Satoshi’s key that’s already public. “Yes, this is a scam. Not maybe,” he wrote on his blog Monday, after reading Andresen’s analysis. 

As it happens, Monday, in which the BBC and GQ broke the news that Wright is supposedly Satoshi—The Economist was more skeptical—was the first day of Consensus. There, the mood of Bitcoin enthusiasts was largely skeptical.

“Need to see more proof. I’m not going to take a position either way,” Michael Casey, the Senior Advisor at the MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative, told Vocativ. “Knowing this community, knowing how [bitcoin developers] think, I know that they take it so seriously that they care deeply about [bitcoin] being a trustless proof. That it’s something that cannot be otherwise fraudulently misrepresented.”

“Gavin’s one of the smartest bitcoin guys out there,” Vinny Lingham, the CEO of identity protection startup Civic and a board member of the Bitcoin Foundation, told Vocativ. “But I don’t know! Just publish the live transaction. Why wouldn’t you?”

“It does stink quite a bit. It could be him, but at this point my confidence is less than 50 percent,” added Vitalik Buterin, a founder of Ethereum, a technology some see as the successor to bitcoin.

The strongest criticism came from Jerry Brito, the executive director of the Coin Center, a research nonprofit. “I can’t think of a more convoluted way to go about claiming one is Satoshi than what Craig Wright has done so far. He’s provided no cryptographic evidence verifiable by the public, and many of his answers sound plain fishy. Given his past, he starts with a credibility deficit and what we’ve seen so far isn’t helping.”

Several other attendees who didn’t want to go on the record all told Vocativ the same basic thing—they generally trusted Andresen’s intelligence and judgment, but were unconvinced by his description of Wright’s proof.

Andresen didn’t respond to Vocativ’s request for comment.