Is Estonia the Home of Satoshi Nakamoto? A Strong Case for Mike Gault, Märt Saarepera, Ahto Buldas & Joichi Ito.
Estonia began testing blockchain in 2008, the same year blockchain as we know it is believed to have been invented.
This story is still developing
Even though the idea has been around since the 90s, it is widely accepted that blockchain, as we know it, was created by the mysterious Nakamoto. Last year, a Los Angeles lawyer by the name of Justin Sabaje, was determined to uncover the truth about the mysterious creator and his investigation brought him all the way to Estonia.
Similarly, while researching how Estonia uses blockchain (I just moved here from the US last month) I came across a document that listed the type of blockchain, how they built their blockchain, and who they worked with to achieve it. Previously, I had read that they implemented it in 2012, which made them the first country to do so on the national level. But, when I saw that the information said they began testing it in 2008, a lot of questions popped into my head.
Now, Sabaje believed that he followed the clues to a man named Helger Lipmaa and proceeded to provide a lot of circumstantial evidence. For instance, Lipmaa and Satoshi’s displayed birthdates were nearly identical. Lipmaa created the process of timestamping digital documents and had also focused his doctoral thesis on the concept of blockchain in the 90s. Lipmaa even defended the thesis at the University of Tartu in 1999. A litany of other circumstantial evidence concluded with the “coincidence” that Lipmaa shut down his blog in 2008, around the same time Satoshi became active.
However, Lipmaa denies any connection to Satoshi. In fact, he wants nothing to do with the topic after an onslaught of press inquiries after Sabaje sent his findings to several prominent news outlets worldwide. Interestingly enough, I believe Sabaje wasn’t that far off in guessing Lipmaa, since he and Ahto Buldas (more below) did some research together on linked timestamping.
Even though we both followed clues leading to Estonia, I have a different theory. I am obviously not the first to suggest that Satoshi is actually a group of people and not a single person. And, while researching Estonia’s history with blockchain and the company that built it, I began to wonder if the company (or, at least, the founder) was Satoshi.
Now, Guardtime is the leader of building blockchains for governments and major corporations worldwide. They have partnered with corporate giants worldwide like Verizon & Ericsson. The US, China, the Netherlands, the UK, Thailand… all have signed deals to work with Guardtime to build blockchains highly sensitive and critical sectors of the governments.
Here’s where it gets really INTERESTING!!!
So, I used Google to search for news about Guardtime in 2008. This screenshot of the results (though the webpage has now changed) shows the company claims to have been working with blockchain since 2008:
But, that’s not all. The founder of Guardtime is Mike Gault. So, instead of asking “Who is John Gault?”, my question is “Who is Mike Gault?” Well, Mike has an online bio on Crunchbase that reads:
Mike Gault is CEO and Founder of Guardtime, a company he has led for the last 10 years. He started his career conducting research in Japan on the numerical analysis of quantum devices. He then spent 10 years as a quant and derivatives trader at Credit Suisse and Barclays Capital (in Tokyo). Mr. Gault received a Ph.D. in electronic engineering from the University of Wales and an M.B.A. from the Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA Program.
This could explain Nakamoto’s perfect English. According to Wikipedia:
Nakamoto claimed that work on the writing of the code began in 2007. (Guardtime fired up its servers on 07/07/2007, as mentioned below)
He provided some commentary on banking and fractional-reserve banking. On his P2P Foundation profile as of 2012, Nakamoto claimed to be a 37-year-old male who lived in Japan, but some speculated he was unlikely to be Japanese due to his use of perfect English and his bitcoin software not being documented or labelled in Japanese.
Occasional British English spelling and terminology (such as the phrase “bloody hard”) in both source code comments and forum postings led to speculation that Nakamoto, or at least one individual in the consortium claiming to be him, was of Commonwealth origin.
Moreover, the first bitcoin block that could only be mined by Satoshi contains the encoded text
The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for bankswhich implies that he was reading London's The Times newspaper at the time of the inception of bitcoin.
There is also an Estonian publication (this is the Google search link, scroll down to see the PDF) with a Google timestamp from December 18, 2008, but dated 8/2009 on the publication itself, referring to Gault and his experience in Japan, loosely translated by Google:
Another key clue, this says Guardtime was found in 2006 (misprint? Ooorrr….):
And, this article, an Interview with Mike Gault from 2012/13, holds several clues and outlines a lot of connections Gault & Guardtime have to the start of blockchain technology. The first paragraphs are the most telling:
In 1988, when the digital world was still in the distant future, two young students of cybernetics — Märt Saarepera and Ahto Buldas — met at the Tallinn University of Technology. Some years later, Saarepera travelled to Tokyo as an exchange student and dived into the world of applied information security and cryptography, publishing in various scientific journals. At the same time, Buldas stayed in Tallinn, working on digital signatures, the latest rage all around the world.
At the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Saarepera met two people who later became the key figures behind Guardtime. First he struck up a friendship with his course-mate Mike Gault, who was studying quantum transistors. He then found common ground with the well-known Japanese venture capitalist, technology guru, DJ and writer Joichi Ito (more on him below). Ito, the founder of the first ever Japanese website, invited Saarepera to work in his business incubator, Neoteny Labs. In the second half of the 1990s, Saarepera and Buldas made big plans. They discussed the nitty-gritty of the global information security system. They looked for development funds. They attracted the interest of the Estonians who had founded Skype and, together with some partners, Skype invested over 15 million Estonian kroons (about 560,000 euros) in the enterprise.
In autumn 2007, Ito visited Tallinn in order to formalise his personal investment in Guardtime. He visited the Skype team led by Toivo Annus, and in his subsequent blog post he had only good things to say about Estonians and the free wifi network of Tallinn. The quality of the latter supposedly surpassed the wifi of Frankfurt Airport but not that of Ito’s own Tokyo office. Guardtime received a new impetus. Ito became an important person in setting the direction of the company. On the magic date of 07.07.07 the clock of the servers was started and the history of Guardtime began. Now it was possible to check and issue signatures.
Now, let’s explore Joichi Ito
Ito was born in Japan, but lived in Canada and the US until the age of 14, when he returned to Japan, but still attended an American-influenced school. Ito lived in the US which is several hours behind Japan. In the case of inactivity for Satoshi, this would put the hours of sleeping at roughly 1 am to 7 am. Certainly, a logical time to sleep for most. Perhaps Ito picked up Britsh English phrases while attending school, or from his friend, Mike.
He is a well-known venture capitalist who was an early stage investor in: Kickstarter, Twitter, Six Apart, Technorati, Flickr, SocialText, Dopplr, Last.fm, Rupture, Kongregate, Fotopedia, Diffbot, Formlabs, 3Dsolve and other Internet companies.
He is also:
A vocal advocate of emergent democracy and the sharing economy, Ito is a doctoral candidate in Business Administration focusing on the sharing economy at the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy, Hitotsubashi University. He is the author of Emergent Democracy. Ito is Senior Visiting Researcher of Keio Research Institute at SFC. In May 2011, it was announced that Ito’s company, Digital Garage, will provide PR, marketing, product marketing research and market research for Linkedin Japan.
Märt Saarepera and Ahto Buldas
Mart & Ahto invented the hash calendar.
Their design goal was to remove the need for a trusted third party i.e. that the time of the timestamp should be verifiable independently from the issuer of the timestamp.
In an article published by LHV in 2008, it is noted:
The technology magazine Red Herring put the world’s most innovative companies at the end of January. Of the 1,200 companies, hundreds of the most innovative in the world were selected after several rounds. In 2006, GuardTime, founded by Estonians Märt Saarepera and Ahto Buldas, won the Red Herring TOP 100 place. GuardTime is engaged in technology development, which is a timestamp or a digital fingerprint. Tracking devices and programs and technology developed by GuardTime can determine when files are actually created. GuardTime technology can be implemented by any authority that needs to prove when digital data was created. Thanks to the GuardTime team, Alex Vieux, head of Red Herring, said he was the best choice after the winners were announced.
There is also a photo on Flickr from 2007 of Märt Saarepera standing in front of a whiteboard with a Merkle tree, taken by Joichi Ito. Could this be a coveted photo of the team in action building the first blockchain?
Also in 2007, Ahto Buldas published a paper which states:
“We prove in a non-black-box way that every bounded list and set commitment scheme is knowledge-binding. This is a new and rather strong security condition, which makes the security definitions for time-stamping much more natural compared to the previous definitions, which assume unpredictability of adversaries. As a direct consequence, list and set commitment schemes with partial opening property are sufficient for secure time-stamping if the number of elements has an explicit upper bound”
Commitment schemes are basic building blocks in numerous cryptographic protocols. The most important properties of commitment schemes are binding and hiding. A commitment is hiding if it reveals no information about the committed message and binding if it is impossible to change the committed message afterwards without detection.
However, Buldas et al  pointed out a flaw in the security proof of . By giving a carefully crafted oracle separation they showed that pure collision-resistance is insufficient to prove that the hash tree time-stamping schemes  are secure. In other words, either there are collision-resistant functions that are still insecure for time-stamping, or the security of time-stamping schemes follows from currently unknown complexity-theoretic results.
I am no expert in blockchain. But, this paper seems to outline blockchain, no?
One more interesting piece of information was found in an article from 2018, that says Guardtime was working on the concept of blockchain before Satoshi.
Cybernetica (via the Wayback Machine) is shown to have received many grants for research such as in 2006–2008 Privacy Mining: Cryptographic Methods (ETF6848) and 2003- 2004 Cryptographic methods to ensure consistency of database query responses. (ETF5568)
In summation, I literally just found this information within the last few hours. It’s all speculation. But, one thing is for sure, this preliminary evidence is really intriguing! It would also explain why so many companies invested in Guardtime so quickly and with huge sums, leading to them building blockchains for governments around the world. Who better to build public sector blockchains than the inventors?
Perhaps Satoshi’s silence is because of a government non-disclosure agreement? Perhaps the reason Satoshi’s wallet hasn’t been touched is it is owned by the Estonian/Japanese government? These scenarios are certainly plausible. Is Satoshi Nakamoto an anagram of their four names?
I have reached out to Mike Gault, Joichi Ito, and Ahto Buldas on LinkedIn and let them know about my theory. Will they reply? :)
In response to this article, Joichi Ito said:
I can only take that as a denial? Or….. :)