The enigmatic inventor of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, famously announced the whitepaper for his revolutionary idea of digital currency through the cryptography mailing lists on October 31, 2008, and consequently mined the first Bitcoin (BTC), a.k.a the genesis block, on his computer. However, whether Nakamoto is a real person or a pseudonym for a group of people remains a mystery to this day.
On the bitcoin forums, Satoshi Nakamoto is claimed to be a Japanese man in his 30s. But how do we have a clue about what they own if we don’t know their true identity? With so much obscurity surrounding their person, is there a way to estimate their holdings of Bitcoin (BTC)?
As it turns out, yes, thanks to the decentralized and open-source nature of Bitcoin technology.
But first, let’s try to unravel what we know of Satoshi Nakamoto and the answers that might give us.
Who Is Bitcoin Creator Satoshi Nakamoto?
The creator of Bitcoin never revealed their true identity, ever since they announced the revolutionary electronic, peer-to-peer payment system in 2008. Since then, several people have claimed to be Satoshi, but none of these claims have ever proven to be true.
Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, a Japanese engineer and academic living in California, US was claimed to be the Nakamoto behind Bitcoin by a Newsweek article in 2014. But he denied the allegations himself and told the police that the first time he heard about Bitcoin was in 2014 when his son told him about it.
Hal Finney was an essential figure in the cypherpunk movement. The cypherpunk movement, started around 1980 through a mailing list, was a movement that promoted privacy as a fundamental human right and a much-needed pillar for an open society, which governmental institutions were not to be trusted to ensure.
The group included cryptographers, mathematicians, computer scientists, and other tech-savvy privacy advocators. Although Finley is not likely to be behind the identity of Satoshi Nakomoto, he’s likely to have had close relations with the cryptographers behind Bitcoin and even probably Satoshi, as he is the first person to receive a Bitcoin transaction.
As a fun fact, he lived a couple of blocks from Dorian Nakamoto, which made these allegations even more intriguing.
Like Finney, Szabo was also one of the early contributors to the cypherpunk movement. He is the founder of Bitgold, a decentralized electronic cash system that was a source of inspiration to Bitcoin. In fact, Satoshi referred to Szabo’s Bitgold in the whitepaper on Bitcoin. There are rumors that he could be the founder of Bitcoin, but he repeatedly refuted those allegations.
Plus, there aren’t any explicit clues linking Szabo to Satoshi other than his extraordinary knowledge of cryptography and cryptocurrencies.
Wright is an Australian computer scientist and entrepreneur. He is an unusual character who has been at the center of a lot of drama in the cryptography scene.
Wright claimed that he was involved in the invention of Bitcoin, and by doing so, he unsuspectedly brought upon himself a series of allegations related to the case of David Kleiman.
David Kleiman was an American computer scientist who passed away in 2014, but whose family thought he was involved in the creation of Bitcoin. That being the case, they believed that whoever Satoshi Nakamoto was, they owed the Kleiman family half of the Bitcoin fortune made during the early days of Bitcoin. The conversation spread rapidly with an article by Wired and Gizmodo magazines.
Moreover, Gavin Andresen, who was a developer for blockchain products in 2010 and who was declared the lead developer of the reference implementation for Bitcoin client software by Satoshi himself, claimed that Wright was Satoshi Nakamoto, creating so much confusion that the episode was later called the “who is Satoshi game” by the community. It became a trending topic at the time.
However, subsequently, Wright’s claims were refuted, not to mention that, Wright was later alleged to have engaged in an elaborate hoax of faking the clues that lead to his identification as Bitcoin’s creator.
So how do we know how much Bitcoin they have if we don’t even know who Satoshi is? The answer is hidden in the bitcoin code.
The Bitcoin Blockchain
Most people think that Bitcoin is an anonymous payment system that offers highly privatized transactions. But in reality, Bitcoin is pseudonymous, meaning it’s possible to link the transactions together and expose where the payments flow in the blockchain.
Theoretically, the blockchain is a chain of blocks that hold the information of every single transaction that was made on the Bitcoin network. The nodes on the network, a.k.a the miners, collectively keep the blockchain as a public ledger and continuously compare it to each other’s copy of the blockchain ledger, to make sure nothing has been altered as new blocks are added to it. This way, we can trust the blockchain network without any third-party authority.
Because the blockchain operates as a public ledger, we can check the bitcoin movements on it without knowing any sensitive information such as the private keys of the users. In fact, today there are many blockchain explorer services that let you do that, such as oxt.me.
How Much Bitcoin Does Satoshi Have?
Because the blockchain is actually a public ledger that keeps the record of every movement of every coin from their creation up to now, it has lots of information lying within – one only needs to know how to look.
Thanks to research conducted by Sergio Demian Lerner, an acclaimed security and cryptocurrency researcher, we can now estimate Satoshi’s early mining activity. They are believed to have mined around 1.25 million Bitcoin between January and July 2009 and are now thought to be holding the same amount. This easily makes them a billionaire, if not one of the richest people in the world.
This may sound like a lot of coins, but according to recent research, it’s likely that they held back to leave room for other miners because more miners competing for block validation create a more secure blockchain.
But let’s see how the cryptocurrency community came to this conclusion and what exactly is there in the blockchain to support this claim.
Why Does Satoshi Have So Much Bitcoin?
Each Bitcoin in the blockchain is created as a reward for validating the transactions on the blockchain, which is called mining. In other words, miners earn Bitcoin by validating each Bitcoin block on the blockchain. Today, to mine a considerable amount of Bitcoin, you need to invest in highly specialized mining equipment to compete with the hash power in the industry.
However, when Bitcoin was founded, the dynamics of the mining activity were a bit different than today’s mining ecosystem. First of all, because there was no competition in the industry yet, it was a piece of cake to mine bitcoin on a CPU without splitting the prize among a pool of miners.
Secondly, Bitcoin was designed to reduce the block prizes as more and more Bitcoin is mined. To be precise, the block prize is halved after the creation of every 210,000 blocks. Back in the day, the block prize of mining was 50 BTC, which has halved 3 times since and has been around 6 BTC since May 2020.
Plus, to claim the reward, a special transaction called a coinbase which the miner pays for is required, which decreases the profitability of mining a small amount of BTC. Thus it’s no surprise that Satoshi is sitting on a mountain of Bitcoin, as they were the only miner around when Bitcoin was first invented.
The Patoshi Pattern
The Patoshi pattern is a term coined by Sergio Demian Lerner to describe the pattern of blocks that are thought to have been mined by Satoshi.
There is no way of knowing how many Bitcoin Satoshi holds other than going up to them and asking. But Lerner, a security and cryptocurrency researcher, has published a very convincing report titled “The Well Deserved Fortune of Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin creator, Visionary and Genius” in which he traced the Bitcoin mined between January 1st, 2009 and January 25th, 2010, and discovered there was a distinct pattern in the extra nonce value in the coinbase transaction of each block.
Moreover, Lerner found out that the last byte of the nonce of the blocks that Patoshi mined were always within the ranges of 0 to 9 or 19 to 58 while other blocks had the full range of 255. This investigation unveiled that a single miner mined at least thousands of Bitcoin blocks, hitting up to 1 million BTC in their wallet.
There are two possible problems with this method of determining how much bitcoins Satoshi has. First, because the number of miners in the industry increased considerably after a point, it’s now very hard to distinguish Patoshi patterns from other mining activity. Second, as time went by, like the other miners, Satoshi must have needed to upgrade their mining equipment to continue. If they did, this likely broke the Patoshi pattern.
Even though Satoshi is currently sitting on a mountain of BTC, they haven’t moved any of them ever.
As we have just discussed, because of the pseudonymous nature of blockchain, some crypto enthusiasts were able to trace the miner behind the genesis block and other BTC they mined through the same device. But because Satoshi hasn’t moved their coins much, we cannot trace those Bitcoin anymore, which would lay out more details on the identity of Satoshi. But being the mastermind behind cryptocurrencies as we know them today, Satoshi also is probably aware of the traceable nature of the blockchain.
There’s also another factor at play – Satoshi is the biggest known whale in the Bitcoin market. If they started to move their immense Bitcoin holdings, it could cause chaos in cryptocurrency markets altogether, because moving such big amounts would directly affect the supply and demand dynamics, and consequently, the price of Bitcoin as well.
Just to illustrate, on May 20, 2020, a popular Twitter bot account called whale_alert that tracks on-chain transactions for several blockchains tweeted that 40 BTC was transferred from a bitcoin wallet possibly owned by Satoshi. Naturally, the tweet quickly went viral and it ended up dipping BTC price considerably.
A Few Words Before You Go…
The true identity of the inventor of Bitcoin is still a mystery. However, thanks to the decentralized nature of the Bitcoin blockchain, the crypto community has been able to find some clues about how much Bitcoin they might be holding and establish the fact that those Bitcoin were never moved in bulk, apart from the 40 BTC whale_alert detected.
Because Satoshi prefers to stay behind the curtains, the only thing we can do is speculate about their motive. But the fact that they remain unknown is probably a good thing for Bitcoin. At the end of the day, Satoshi wanted to create a decentralized peer-to-peer payment system that would promote privacy much better than governmental institutions. And the fact the inventor of this system is still unknown attests that they have truly made this vision a reality.