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How the NSA Identified Satoshi Nakamoto (medium.com) 427

An anonymous reader shares a report: The 'creator' of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, 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 and then through MUSCULAR, 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.
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How the NSA Identified Satoshi Nakamoto

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  • by manlygeek ( 958223 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:11PM (#55098161) Homepage
    I'd love to meet Satoshi Nakamoto. He/she/they must be brilliant. But if the NSA can positively identify them it is probable that no one is truly anonymous unless you simply don't ever post email, forum posts, or anything else online. I keep a low profile but it sounds like only cave dwellers and hermits can escape big brother!
    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      It took them a month for the NSA to ferret out one person, and God knows how many man-hours of work in that time.

      Since the NSA doesn't share much with the FBI, I'm not too worried.

      • It took them a month for the NSA to ferret out one person, and God knows how many man-hours of work in that time.

        Since the NSA doesn't share much with the FBI, I'm not too worried.

        Sure, but now they have the code written and tested it will be much faster for the next one.

    • I wonder if Satoshi is a US citizen. If so, why does the NSA have all of his communications squirreled away forever?
    • by TiggertheMad ( 556308 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:56PM (#55098569) Homepage Journal
      If this is true, it begs the question: why is the NSA looking for Satoshi? Where are the warrants to do this kind of search? This is a fairly involved process, even if the software was already written, collecting the entirety of Satoshi's writing for input is time consuming work.

      As a taxpayer, there be something pretty fuckin important they need to ask Satoshi personally to justify this waste of my tax money.
      • by courteaudotbiz ( 1191083 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @02:06PM (#55098637) Homepage

        As a taxpayer, there be something pretty fuckin important they need to ask Satoshi personally to justify this waste of my tax money.

        You really think they have to justify what they do with your money? One of my fav quotes in that good old ID4 movie: " You don't actually think they spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat, do you?"

      • by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @02:58PM (#55099053)

        There are people who already collected all his writings so that wouldn't exactly be hard to find.

        Why did they search for him? One possibility is they want to recruit him. Other than that it could be they simply want to track his activities given his known past record with distributed crypto. Or they want to find a way to subvert the protocol in case it comes to that.

      • by ttsai ( 135075 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @03:36PM (#55099349)

        If this is true, it begs the question: why is the NSA looking for Satoshi? Where are the warrants to do this kind of search? This is a fairly involved process, even if the software was already written, collecting the entirety of Satoshi's writing for input is time consuming work.

        As a taxpayer, there be something pretty fuckin important they need to ask Satoshi personally to justify this waste of my tax money.

        Maybe finding Satoshi is as important as landing a man on the moon. The task at hand may not be that important, but developing the technology in the process yields capabilities that may prove to be significant for future tasks.

      • by laddiebuck ( 868690 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @09:15PM (#55101019)

        I know it's out of fashion to read TFA, but you could have just scrolled right to the end:

        "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."

        Oh and also, this report is literally just a self-sourced blog post.

        "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 the NSA can easily determine the authorship of any email through the use of their various sources, methods, and resources."

    • I'd love to meet Satoshi Nakamoto. He/she/they must be brilliant. But if the NSA can positively identify them it is probable that no one is truly anonymous unless you simply don't ever post email, forum posts, or anything else online. I keep a low profile but it sounds like only cave dwellers and hermits can escape big brother!

      For now it's too intensive a process for them to figure out everyone anonymous. 10 years from now it may only take them 5 minutes.

    • that no one is truly anonymous unless you simply don't ever post email, forum posts, or anything else online.

      Write in simple English and run it through a translator. Chain a few together.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:12PM (#55098177)

    According to the author - ME.

    Sounds truthy enough.

  • Grammarly (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:12PM (#55098183)

    It's beneficial that I exercise Grammarly. Straight away those concerned with distinguishing me, will undergo unhingement.

  • by linuxguy ( 98493 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:13PM (#55098191) Homepage

    An anonymous reader shares a report... "according to my source at the DHS..."

    Well, I am not anonymous and my source at DHS says that these claims are BS. Who is more credible?

    In 2014 Newsweek was pretty damn sure they had the right Satoshi and dragged a poor soul through hell and back because of their "beliefs". Can we give this topic a rest, until we know for sure and for real? None of this anonymous reporter citing anonymous sources at DHS crap.

    • The original story sounds very credible to me.
    • by VAXcat ( 674775 )
      Their source is the guy in this picture. Sounds legit to me. https://regardingarts.com/film... [regardingarts.com]
    • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @02:37PM (#55098873) Homepage Journal

      Seems improbable to me too for the simple reason that the most likely Nakamoto is actually a group of people, which would explain a number of well documented oddities such as frequent switching between British and American spelling, and other unusual aspects of Nakamoto's life. That makes me doubt the entire NSA thing.

      Part of me really wants to believe that one member of the group was really Craig Wright, partially because it'd upset a sizable amount of the Bitcoin community, and partially because he does fit the profile of what I'd suggest was the leadership of the group. I'm not going to make that bet though.

      (Of course the perfect answer would be if it were Wright, Finney, and... Dorian Nakamoto. That'd be glorious.)

      • I wonder if was created by a group of people working for the NSA. The kind of people who would be able to come up with something like bitcoin and successfully spread the idea overlap pretty heavily with the kind of people recruited by the three letter agencies. Its not hard to imagine a think tank deciding to come up with something that could be used for illegal activity in order to track that activity.

    • by Ultra64 ( 318705 )

      >Well, I am not anonymous

      Do you really think using the username 'linuxguy' is that different?

      Nobody knows who you are, you are as good as anonymous.

  • So He Could Sue... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Luthair ( 847766 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:14PM (#55098207)
    the NSA, I recall lawsuits after the Snowden releases were kicked out of court because they couldn't show they had standing. Apparently Satoshi Nakamoto can show he has standing because the NSA has copies of his emails.
  • Subject says it all.

    (And yes, I read the paragraph saying there are no sources, as if this somehow represents original research.)

  • I can't help but be impressed though.

  • by OutOnARock ( 935713 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:20PM (#55098265)
    ...will the real Satoshi please stand up
    please stand up
    please stand up

    ....ducks!......
  • in other words.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:21PM (#55098273)

    they used illegally-gathered data.

  • You can learn everything you want to know by reading the source code of the bitcoin nodes. Knowing the identity of the guy who wrote the first version doesn't really add anything.

    • by caseih ( 160668 )

      Ahh but see you're mistaken. What the NSA really wants is the original bitcoin(s) which are now worth millions. Other than the
      theoretical wealth of his original bitcoins, you're absolutely correct. There's no reason the NSA would ever need to know the identity of the original author as he's broken no laws and done nothing wrong and everything he wrote in software is available for scrutiny. He's just fabulously rich, albeit on paper only. And furthermore bitcoin is not anonymous at all, so the moment he

      • I would expect him to throw away his private keys, to guarantee they would never fall in the wrong hands. And then maybe mine some new coins anonymously.

      • Supply/Demand Problems with your analysis.

        If the supply of BitCoin in active circulation ever increased with the amount SN is supposed to have (guestimates) I would crash the market in no time flat.

        Then there is the problem of "I don't remember where I put them" or "I forgot my key" or "I lost the wallet" or ... any number of excuses he might have. And until he actually uses the BitCoins, they are unrealized gains and the government can't really touch them.

  • by sqorbit ( 3387991 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:24PM (#55098307)
    Doesn't this person deserve the right not to have their identity known? They have not (as far I as I know) committed a crime or being investigated for a criminal act. I'm sure the motivation behind remaining anonymous is for his own safety and well being. If someone has not released their identity on purpose, and even more so gone to lengths to keep it private why is anyone trying to find out who he is. Sure there's an interest level there. There's quite possibly a lot to learn, but at what cost? I know most of these points are completely obvious and the answers are also unfortunately obvious, but it needs to be said anyway.
    • Doesn't this person deserve the right not to have their identity known? They have not (as far I as I know) committed a crime or being investigated for a criminal act.

      Do they deserve privacy? Absolutely.

      Is it to be expected? No. It's not hard to see strategic value for an intelligence agency to know who created and has influence over what has become an increasing important economic exchange. They might be interested too if he HAD done anything wrong, if he were really involved in some black market transfers and that was his motivation behind creating the bitcoin. (no evidence of that so shouldn't invade his privacy... but easy to see why agencies would).

      No one deser

    • Doesn't this person deserve the right not to have their identity known?

      Doing very public things anonymously is a funny definition of privacy.

    • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

      Sure, but he left his fingerprint all over the public Internet. At some point a person needs to take responsibility for their own anonymity.

  • by PPH ( 736903 )

    Why identify Satoshi Nakamoto? Wouldn't it be of more use to identify the users of Bitcoin?

    On the other hand, public knowledge (at some point) of Satoshi's identity could serve to protect him against pressure or retribution from the TLAs. If he or his associates can prove his identity, the gov't or banks can't very well engineer his disappearance.

  • Dogecoin! (Score:4, Funny)

    by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:27PM (#55098335)

    Dogecoin to the moon! Dogecoin will be valued at over two dollars before the end of the year.

  • Reminds me of the early days (mid 1990's) of PGP, when there was a now obviously ineffective campaign to encourage everyone to put their emails into the 'encryption envelope.'

    We didn't listen. Now this is possible.

  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tomthepom ( 314977 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:29PM (#55098351)

    Is Satoshi Nakamoto suspected of a crime? Is he or she a threat to national security?
    The NSA has expended all this effort and violated Satoshi's and a billion other people's privacy for.... what? Shits and giggles?

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:40PM (#55098439)

      violated Satoshi's and a billion other people's privacy

      They violated Satoshi's privacy just for the practice. They violated a billion other's privacy to build a baseline corpus to tune their search application.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Monday August 28, 2017 @02:50PM (#55098979) Homepage Journal

      Is Satoshi Nakamoto suspected of a crime? Is he or she a threat to national security?

      One of the theories regarding Bitcoin is that it is an effort by a national actor to crash other nation's economies.

    • Is Satoshi Nakamoto suspected of a crime? Is he or she a threat to national security? The NSA has expended all this effort and violated Satoshi's and a billion other people's privacy for.... what? Shits and giggles?

      For national security obviously. You might not agree, but information is power, and our security agencies are charged with maintaining position of power. Or do you think all decisions around national security should be held by popular vote instead?

  • Nothing new here folks, same method was used to nail Ted Kaczynski - of course it was much more difficult back then so a far greater accomplishment.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by slew ( 2918 )

      Nothing new here folks, same method was used to nail Ted Kaczynski - of course it was much more difficult back then so a far greater accomplishment.

      Actually, I think David Kaczynski simply turned in his brother after reading his manifesto and recognizing his brother's writing style...

      If you want call that the same method, well, I guess you are entitled, but that probably implies that Satoshi's brother works for the NSA... If that were true, I think the NSA creating bitcoin would be a far greater accomplishment than nabbing Ted...

      • by al0ha ( 1262684 )
        David's wife recognized the writing; only after an FBI profiler and a scientist in the budding field did all the grunt work and learned to tie all the bits of evidence together, letters, etc.; then decided to publish the manifesto. They knew who it was through the same techniques, they only needed a name.
  • This is ok (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Headw1nd ( 829599 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:36PM (#55098413)
    I'm sure there will be loads of posts here denouncing the NSA for this, because it is in fact creepy and invasive. However, this kind of thing is *exactly* what they should be doing. "Satoshi Nakamoto" is a figure who created a economy-changing product, and as a result holds assets that value in the billions. Their motivations, ideology, and state ties were unknown, though they maintained they were not an American. It's completely reasonable for government to find out who this person is, and determine if they were and ally, an enemy, or neither. Now that they know they can act accordingly.
  • Interesting, there was a story recently on Fresh Air/NPR about how they caught the unabomber through linguistic work. It wasn't until his manifesto that they had enough writing to analyse. They didn't mention stylometry but the FBI interviewee discussed breaking down the writing into geographical location, writer's age, etc.
  • by PortHaven ( 242123 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @01:51PM (#55098521) Homepage

    YES, the NSA is reading ALL our emails, recording ALL our phone calls. Damn the Constitution full autocracy ahead.

    • by linuxguy ( 98493 )

      You based this on anonymous poster citing anonymous sources at DHS?

      What the hell is wrong with you people?

  • That's actually a bit careless. Even I am completely aware of this. When I'm posting something anonymously, I swap cuz/cause and don't put commas before a "lol" and single space my sentences and don't use an oxford comma and use semicolons incorrectly on purpose. All you have to have is a basic awareness of how it works and you can avoid it. I blame him for not being cautious enough.
    • That's the main reason for all my incorrect word usage, typos, and grammar mistakes too.

    • I will never be found parently becaus3 of my brilliance disguises but also styling metering thinks I am smartphones autocarrot.

  • What's the point of this effort? Did he break any laws?

    Or is this just more dick-waving by the NSA?

    More proof that the security services are out of control?

  • IRS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by eric31415927 ( 861917 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @02:09PM (#55098651)

    I imagine the IRS wants his name and a good chunk of any cash it feels entitled to.

    • I imagine the IRS wants his name and a good chunk of any cash it feels entitled to.

      That's a very good point. Is income earned from bitcoin mining tax collectible (I'm sure it is); and how many people report that?

  • The effort took less than a month and resulted in positive match.

    Yes, and nobody knows what the false positive or false negative rates are. Stylometry is not a reliable way of identifying people, and it is quite disturbing that people pretend it is.

    This is just as bad as the lie detector scam. The real objective of such announcements it to create fear and doubt among the population; they want to be able to bully suspects into saying "come on, admit you're guilty, stylometry/lie detectors already prove it, b

  • ac (Score:5, Funny)

    by trb ( 8509 ) on Monday August 28, 2017 @02:19PM (#55098723)

    I wonder how long it will take the NSA to unmask Slashdot's Anonymous Coward.

    • I wonder how long it will take the NSA to unmask Slashdot's Anonymous Coward.

      Shouldn't be too hard. They only need to compare AC to people who are current residents of mental institutions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We had anecdote in Soviet Union about KGB. The conversation taking place in public phone booth in the middle of the night somewhere on side road having no single person around in vicenty.

      The guys is dialing number using coins a has following conversation:

      - Hello
      - Hello
      - Is this KGB
      - Yes
      - You work poorly!
      (Somebody pats on his shoulder behind)
      - We work as we can ...

  • It was Rusty Foster the whole time! Who would have thought?

  • Stylometry is a useless tool that works by racial and cultural stereotypes. Anyone with a half-decent education will stymie this system almost immediately.

    Take two students from the same school, whom have had the same classes, especially the language classes, right to the same teacher.

    Odds are quite high that they will phrase things quite similarly.

    As if this weren't evident enough in the amount of cheating that happens in middle and high school.

  • by wkwilley2 ( 4278669 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2017 @01:02AM (#55101555)

    Satoshi is a serious threat to any large government since he/she/they single-handedly created the most popular and valuable de-centralized currency in the world.

    Currency in any form is one that any government wants exclusive control over.

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