They often say that you come to Bitcoin for the technology and hang around for the drama. Yesterday there was plenty on display. From a death threat to a new message from the hacked Satoshi Nakamoto’s account on the now famous p2pfoundation pages. All fun and games, but the hackers claim to know Satoshi’s identity.
There is little doubt that the hackers have access to the actual account. As much was shown by a screenshot of the account’s inbox and by forwarded emails to a Bitcoin developer dating as far back as 2011. It is unlikely however that the emails within that account reveal any information about Satoshi’s identity.
Little is known about Satoshi Nakamoto, the person. Although often Satoshi is referred to as a he in a singular, that is only for convenience as no one know whether he is an individual, a group, an institution or even, as some may believe, an alien from outer space. There are, however, circumstantial evidences and some revealing statements which may show why he is anonymous and why it may be difficult, if not perhaps impossible, for his identity to be unwillingly known.
In all probability Satoshi is a cypherpunk, a group of prescient who’s who of the computer world who foresaw decades ago the dangers, as well as the benefits, of technology with a primary focus on the near death of privacy that our society now faces. They are and have been at the forefront of an arms race between a government which aims to know more and more and a citizenry which highly values privacy and anonymity.
The cypherpunks believe that in order to have any privacy you need anonymity and anonymous monetary transactions online, like cash offline, as stated in their manifesto:
“Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world… When my identity is revealed by the underlying mechanism of [a monetary] transaction, I have no privacy. I cannot here selectively reveal myself; I must_always_ reveal myself. Therefore, privacy in an open society requires anonymous transaction systems.”
Arguably Bitcoin is exactly this anonymous transaction system that the cypherpunks have been trying for decades to create. It is reasonable therefore to assume that this creation came for a cypherpunk who had been working on the problem for years.
The Need for Anonymity
If Satoshi is indeed a cypherpunk, then we can make some assumptions. Firstly, he is likely to have in-depth knowledge of all tools that permit full anonymity online, including their strength and weaknesses, as the whole cypherpunk movement is based on the right and the ability to retain privacy. Secondly, he would be aware of all previous attempts to create emoney that failed as shown by his reply to a poster on the cypherpunk list who argued that “You will not find a solution to political problems in cryptography” as follows:
“Yes, but we can win a major battle in the arms race and gain a new territory of freedom for several years. Governments are good at cutting off the heads of a centrally controlled networks like Napster, but pure P2P networks like Gnutella and Tor seem to be holding their own.”
Egold, Liberty Dollar, Liberty Reserve and all other previous attempts at emoney, like Napster, were centrally controlled and shut down by the government for one reason or another. Furthermore, the leaders of these centralized attempts at creating emoney were imprisoned under one law or another, which would have warned anyone familiar with these events that the government was very hostile to any attempts to create emoney.
Satoshi was clearly aware of this background as shown by a statement he made in a Bitcointalk thread about a wired article on Bitcoin which paints it as a currency that Wikileaks could adopt to raise funding following a financial blockade by banking institution:
“It would have been nice to get this attention in any other context. WikiLeaks has kicked the hornet's nest, and the swarm is headed towards us.”
It is probable, therefore, that the precautions he would have taken to maintain anonymity would have needed to be sufficiently robust to protect from government surveillance, which, even prior to Snowden’s revelations, was taken to be a fact by the cyberpunks as they believe that “information does not just want to be free, it longs to be free. Information expands to fill the available storage space.” The hacker’s claim therefore that Satoshi used a “primary gmx under his full name and had aliases set up underneath it” is simply not credible when Satoshi’s aim seems to have been from the very beginning to leave no trace of his identity not only to the public, but also to the government.
He has succeeded so far and his success has turned him into a hero of the digital age, an incarnation of the principle of privacy which is impossible without anonymity, and into a figure of myth which, like all myths, tells us a truth about today’s reality through symbolisms and metaphors.
The Hacking of Satoshi Nakamoto's Email Account
It is, of course, possible that leaks from the hackers can disprove what has been said so far, but that is highly doubted as the hackers have not shown any signs of high sophistication. It seems that access to the account was gained by a simple password reset after guessing Satoshi’s birthday as entered in his GMX account. It may be the case that once the birthday was found, the original hacker then sold it to the highest bidders on darknet. This is shown by reports from Vice which suggest that it is multiple users who have access to the account.
Many of them seem to be using it for the lulz or just out of simple curiosity, with numerous hackers seemingly playing around with the Vice reporter by telling him that a person he was speaking to earlier was "in fact Satoshi Nakamoto. " Of course that is likely to be complete nonsense as these individuals seem to only have access to the email account which, due to the likely background of the "satoshi" myth, is unlikely to contain any real details about the person behind Satoshi Nakamoto and it is highly unlikely that Satoshi would in any way engage with mere script kiddies.
We do not know when the details might have been sold, but at some point, the ability to access Satoshi’s account must have been discovered from someone within the Bitcoin community who is likely to have good intentions towards Bitcoin and seems to have used the access to warn us all that any communication from that account is not safe. This would explain the nonsensical email to Theymos, the wording of which acts as effectively a declaration that the email account has been hacked.
That is where the story is likely to end. Perhaps some emails may be leaked, but it is highly unlikely that they have Satoshi’s identity, an opinion which seems to be shared by Jeff Garzik, a Bitcoin developer who tweeted: “Prediction: Satoshi's personal information will -not- be revealed in the next 24 hours.”
The Legend Lives On
The myth thus lives on and through its existence proves to us all that to be anonymous is possible, that privacy is not completely dead, that to have the choice of when and how to reveal yourself is a necessity if we are to have a free and democratic society.
Long may it live, for if it dies, a piece of freedom dies with it.
Images from Shutterstock.