Is Craig Wright Satoshi, again?

Monday 02 May 2016

Aussie computer scientist Craig Wright has offered ‘proof’ he created bitcoin - but is it enough?

‘I could offer you more convincing proof I’m Satoshi, but I’m not inclined to do so.’ That, broadly, is the position Craig Wright is adopting.

Back in December computer scientist Craig Wright was outed as bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto. Extensive information was ‘leaked’ to one tech block and ‘hacked’ and released to another. For a while - a few hours - it looked convincing. But then the story came apart. Critical to the widespread scepticism in the bitcoin community was the fact that PGP keys had been faked or backdated. The most obvious explanation was that it had all been an elaborate hoax, perhaps to detract from Wright’s problems with the Australian Tax Office.


Ok, pretty convincing, Craig. But we still need more.

Now, he’s back in the news. More than four months later, Wright appeared in front of a camera on the BBC, apparently signing a message with the public keys used to create the Finney transaction: the first ever bitcoin transaction, of 10 BTC to Hal Finney, on January 12, 2009. 

If it’s legit, it’s compelling evidence he is who he says. Unless he somehow gained access to the keys that Satoshi used to make that transaction, it’s as good as saying he’s Satoshi himself: it’s effectively cryptographically impossible to fake it.

In the course of his interview with the BBC, Wright states - emphatically - that he just wants to be left alone. He implies he won’t ‘deploy’ the BTC he/Satoshi mined in the early days - a million-plus coins. He says that the ongoing investigation into his tax affairs centres, effectively, on capital gains: as the owner of 1 million BTC, he argues that he should be taxed on these at the point of spending, not on their current value - and that the authorities don’t understand bitcoin well enough to appreciate this, hence their problems with him. He also states that he will not accept a single cent in money, no prizes, and that he will never appear in front of another camera again.

He has also started a blog to ‘dispel the myths out there and unleash its potential to change the world for the better’. It’s worth noting that in the one-and-only interview he will ever give on this, he makes it clear - again emphatically - that he does not want to be a figurehead for bitcoin. But he has also said that he favours a steady increase in block size: so much for not being politically and publicly involved, in the current climate.

There were major holes in the evidence back in December: gaps you could drive a truck through. Is this different? A message signed with the key to the Finney transaction seems convincing. Gavin Andresen was certainly convinced, as was Jon Matonis. Neither of these big-hitters, who have known Satoshi online from his early days, can be discounted.

Pretty soon, though, the hole-picking started. After the problems last time, the bar of proof is high - very high. And Wright refuses to make public certain evidence that would help his case. He doesn’t even explain why he chose the pseudonym Satoshi - which admittedly wouldn’t be proof of any kind, but it might help create a more rounded, convincing picture. The BBC states that he has provided technical proof to back up his claim, but they don’t make it available, so it’s impossible to verify or audit this.

It’s all a bit cloak-and-dagger, frankly, and when you’re dealing with a system that is based on transparency and where watertight proof can be provided, that’s a little strange. We're being asked to trust a few individuals. Why? Why not move around a few of those early bitcoins, for example, if he really does hold the keys to them? Satoshi’s coins have never been moved: they still sit in the original addresses into which they were mined. His explanation is that those coins are now owned by a trust. It’s convenient, as is the statement that he doesn’t want to keep ‘jumping through hoops’.

The Economist concludes that ‘Mr Wright could well be Mr Nakamoto, but that important questions remain. Indeed, it may never be possible to establish beyond reasonable doubt who really created bitcoin.’

If Wright is Nakamoto, he has made it much harder than it should be to prove it. There are extensive inconsistencies that need explaining, not least the rather dodgy-looking ‘proof’ from last time around. And the claim that he wants to be left alone and does not want to become a figurehead for bitcoin, whilst saying and doing things that point in the opposite direction, are also jarring.

It is not satisfactory. Something is still not Wright here. Whether it’s the matter of his identity or something else, things do not yet stack up. No doubt we’ll get to the bottom of it all soon enough.

Update: Things got even more interesting. The BBC now reports that Wright has promised to move some of the early Satoshi coins, which would be pretty good proof of identity. It would also raise the question, again, of why he didn't just do that in the first place, and why he has opted for a torturous and obscure 'proof' to date instead of an elegantly simple and transparent one.

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