How Satoshi Nakamoto’s email enabled the NSA determine the true identity of the secretive Bitcoin creator.
Last year I published a post explaining how the NSA had successfully identified Satoshi Nakamoto — the creator of the world’s most famous blockchain currency — Bitcoin. The story was viewed more than 400,000 times here on Medium and 62% of them actually read it! When I wrote the story I had no idea what sort of “fallout” that was in store for me. It all started when a friend of mine at the Department of Homeland Security told me that the NSA knew the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto — a fascinating story that I decided to share here on Medium. I’ll share the story first and then describe how my life changed as a result.
The Original Story:
As you surely know by now, the ‘creator’ of Bitcoin is the world’s most elusive billionaire. Very few people outside of the Department of Homeland Security know Satoshi’s real name. In fact, DHS will not publicly confirm that even THEY know the billionaire’s identity. Satoshi has taken great care to keep his identity secret employing the latest encryption and obfuscation methods in his communications. Despite these efforts (according to my source at the DHS) Satoshi Nakamoto gave investigators the only tool they needed to find him — his own words.
Using stylometry one is able to compare texts to determine authorship of a particular work.Throughout the years Satoshi wrote thousands of posts and emails and most of which are publicly available. According to my source, the NSA was able to the use the ‘writer invariant’ method of stylometry to compare Satoshi’s ‘known’ writings with trillions of writing samples from people across the globe. By taking Satoshi’s texts and finding the 50 most common words, the NSA was able to break down his text into 5,000 word chunks and analyse each to find the frequency of those 50 words.This would result in a unique 50-number identifier for each chunk. The NSA then placed each of these numbers into a 50-dimensional space and flatten them into a plane using principal components analysis. The result is a ‘fingerprint’ for anything written by Satoshi that could easily be compared to any other writing.
The NSA then took bulk emails and texts collected from their mass surveillance efforts. First through PRISM (a court-approved front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts) and then through MUSCULAR (where the NSA copies the data flows across fiber optic cables that carry information among the data centers of Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and Facebook) the NSA was able to place trillions of writings from more than a billion people in the same plane as Satoshi’s writings to find his true identity. The effort took less than a month and resulted in positive match.
This wasn’t the first time efforts had been made to unearth the identity of Satoshi using stylometry. Various reporters and members of the Bitcoin community have used various open source stylometry tools to attempt to uncover the true identity of Bitcoin’s creator. Their problem? They didn’t have access to trillions of emails from a billion people and they weren’t able to plug them into a supercomputer. The NSA’s proprietary software, bulk email collection ability, and computing power made it possible for them to conclusively identify Satoshi.
But why? Why go to so much trouble to identify Satoshi? My source tells me that the Obama administration was concerned that Satoshi was an agent of Russia or China — that Bitcoin might be weaponized against us in the future.Knowing the source would help the administration understand their motives. As far as I can tell Satoshi hasn’t violated any laws and I have no idea if the NSA determined he was an agent of Russia or China or just a Japanese crypto hacker.
The moral of the story? You can’t hide on the internet anymore.Your sentence structure and word use is MORE unique than your own fingerprint. If an organization, like the NSA, wants to find you they will.
Sources: Many readers have asked that I provide third party citations to ‘prove’ the NSA identified Satoshi using stylometry. Unfortunately, I cannot as I haven’t read this anywhere else — hence the reason I wrote this post. I’m not trying to convince the reader of anything, instead my goal is to share the information I received and make the reader aware of the possibility that theNSA can easily determine the authorship of any email through the use of their various sources, methods, and resources.
Identity: Many readers have asked who Satoshi is and I’ve made it clear that information wasn’t shared with me. Based on my conversation I got the impression (never confirmed) that he might have been more than one person. This made me think that perhaps the Obama administration was right that Bitcoin was created by a state actor. One person commented on this post that Satoshi was actually four people. Again, I have no idea.
How to Protect Yourself: There is a project on Github you can join to help create a way to write without fingerprints:https://github.com/psal/anonymouth
Shortly after writing the story one of my friends who happens to work at the DHS began getting strange calls. Evidently readers began searching my LinkedIn profile assuming my “source” was connected to me on the networking site (fortunately they weren’t). Regrettably my friend continues to be harassed by people who assume she was my source — she was not. She has since “unconnected” from me on LinkedIn in an effort to stop the harassment.
Two or three weeks later I was visited by a third-party investigator contracted by the Department of Homeland Security. He left a card on my front door indicating he had a very important matter to discuss with me. After talking to my lawyer he suggested that I speak with him on the phone and not in person. While I’m not legally prohibited from sharing our discussion, I have been advised that it might be smart not to share what we discussed. I haven’t heard anything else from DHS and recently filed a FOIA request so I can learn more about their investigation.
Then late last year I began getting strange texts from someone who claimed they were Satoshi Nakamoto. He was talking to Nicholas Thompson the Editor in Chief of Wired Magazine. As I later learned from Nicholas, this guy was the same guy who convinced (at least for a time) the SEC and Tim Draper that he was the REAL Satoshi Nakamoto. According to The Verge:
“When reached for comment for Friday’s article, Draper said simply, “he is a fake.” Draper later elaborated that he had cut ties with the supposed Satoshi when he came to believe the figure was not the real Satoshi Nakamoto. “He had me going for a bit, but his ‘proof’ didn’t check out,” Draper explained. “Satoshi” confirmed that they had parted ways, but says it was he who fired Draper from the project.”
Ultimately, I too decided that I was too busy to determine whether or not Tim was right so I discontinued communication with “Satoshi”.
Of course, not all of the “fallout” was negative. I was approached by a number of crypto-entreprneuers with great business ideas — several of which might end up to be great investments. I also launched something I called the “Blockfund” and conducted a tour to meet Bitcoin/Ethereum entrepreneurs and holders. My first stop was Mexico City where I was hosted by a billionaire who has the largest blockchain portfolio in Latin America. Afterward I’ve hosted events across the United States.
The tour was a lot of fun and the contacts I made have been very useful. I still don’t know who Satoshi Nakamoto is, but I do appreciate his contribution to the blockchain world. Kudos Satoshi!