One of the great tech mysteries is “Who really is Bitcoin’s inventor, the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto?” Recently, some people thought Linus Torvalds, the developer behind both the world’s most popular operating system, Linux, and its most popular development tool, the Git distributed version control (DVC) system, had also claimed he was the world’s most popular cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, inventor: The perplexing Satoshi Nakamoto.
This story got its start in the cryptocurrency news site, BeInCrypto. There a writer argued that “Linux creator Linus Torvalds seems to be claiming that he is Satoshi Nakamoto, the father of Bitcoin. Is he joking or is this the real deal?”
The reason for this claim? In a GitHub Linux kernel repository, it appeared Torvalds had changed a single line in the Linux Kernel. The change: ‘Name = I am Satoshi.’
And people were off to the races. News stories appeared here, there, and everywhere. The big question “Is he or isn’t he?” was debated on Twitter, Reddit, and Ycombinator.
Back in the late 2000s, no one really cared. Yes, there was a paper entitled, Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” by Satoshi Nakamoto, but so what. There had been lots of papers that went nowhere. But then Nakamoto released the first Bitcoin program, version 0.1 on an early open-source code site, SourceForge, and launched the network with the genesis block of bitcoin aka block number 0. The race to cryptocurrency had started and it’s still going on today.
But, then and now, we still don’t know who Satoshi Nakamoto really is. Nakamoto, who never revealed any real clues as to his identity, stepped back from active Bitcoin involvement in mid-2010. Since then, he’s vanished from the internet.
There have been many attempts to identify him. For example, Newsweek made headlines in 2014 when the newsweekly claimed that Satoshi Nakamoto was, in a purloined letter style, a quiet Japanese man living in California named Satoshi Nakamoto. The real-life Nakamoto has denied the story, and he’s no longer considered a top suspect. Australian computer scientist Craig Wright has claimed to be Nakamoto. But Wright’s been unable to show he controls any of the original Bitcoin.
Torvalds himself has been suspected of being Nakamoto several times over the years. But no one who knows him well, and I consider myself one of those, have ever thought he was the Bitcoin mastermind. It’s just so, so not Linus.
So, while many people were discussing the “evidence,” I decided just to ask Linus. Here’s what he had to say.
“I’m afraid that is just a jokester taking advantage of how GitHub works – it shares git objects between different repositories, so you can use the SHA1 ‘name’ of an object to specify something you did in your own tree, and then use my repository as the web name, and make it look like your object is in my tree.”
Others had made the same point, but the Bitcoin fanatics wouldn’t listen to such a logical common-sense explanation.
Torvalds went on, “So the “torvalds/linux” part of that URL is basically just empty noise, designed to fool people into thinking it’s in my tree. You could replace it with any other GitHub repository name – the actual relevant part is just the SHA1 hash part.”
Still, Torvalds added, “The ‘any other’ might not be entirely true – it may be that GitHub only shares objects between repositories that are related. So maybe the jokester needed to start his repository as a clone of mine to get the required object sharing – I haven’t checked.”
In any case, Torvalds is not Nakamoto.
“So no,” Torvalds concluded, “I’m sadly not the owner of a huge stash of original bitcoins.”
And, there you have it, folks. Nakamoto’s real identity remains a secret.