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November 26, 2013 1:41 pm

Israeli Mathematicians Connect Mysterious Bitcoin Founder to Silk Road’s ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ (UPDATE)

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Mapping created by Weizman Institute mathemticians Dorit Ron and Adi Shamir, linking the creator of Bitcoing to the creator of Silk Road. Photo: Screenshot / Dorit Ron.

Mapping created by Weizman Institute mathematicians Dorit Ron and Adi Shamir, linking the creator of Bitcoin to the creator of Silk Road. Photo: Screenshot / Dorit Ron.

Israeli mathematicians Dorit Ron and Adi Shamir, from the Weizmann Institute, have used the inner workings of the online Bitcoin currency to possibly link its mysterious founder “Satoshi Nakamoto” with “Dread Pirate Roberts,” the founder of Silk Road, an online marketplace closed in October for becoming the world’s largest online bazaar for illegal drugs. As part of the sting in San Francisco, Ross Ulbricht was arrested and accused of being “DPR.”

Their mapping exercise, begun out of curiosity, was based on the records kept publicly for every Bitcoin transaction, which show date and quantities, but not the names of the holders, Business Insider reported on Monday.

The mathematicians followed a major transfer into Silk Road that was suspicious because it seemed to be held capital, rather than cash for online purchases.

They wrote:

“The short path we found (which is depicted in Figure 6) suggests (but does not prove) the existence of a surprising link between the two mysterious figures of the Bitcoin community, Satoshi Nakamoto and DPR. It is reasonable to assume that all the accounts described along the top of Figure 6 belong to the same person, but to be on the safe side we refer to him as a “Founder” rather than as Satoshi Nakamoto. We are sure that analyzing this figure will start a very vigorous debate in the Bitcoin community.”

Intuitively, their hypothesis, linking the creator of the online currency to what became the largest online black market for drugs, appears to make sense, and their mapping could be used to prosecute Ulbricht and finally unmask the mysterious founder of Bitcoin.

Despite the closing of Silk Road, the online currency continues to appreciate in value.

UPDATE:  Late Tuesday, Business Insider published a retraction from the two scientists, after an influential Bitcoin user named Dustin Trammell stepped forward to claim the suspicious account that the mathematicians believed connected the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto to Dread Pirate Roberts.

The mathematicians wrote:

“It had just been brought to our attention that Dustin D. Trammell had published a post at  http://blog.dustintrammell.com/2013/11/26/i-am-not-satoshi/ in which he details his very early association with the bitcoin scheme, states that he is the owner of the account which received some of the first batches of mined bitcoins, and describes how he deposited  them into his account at MtGox from which they found their way in a few short hops and without his involvement into DPR’s account.

We find this post completely believable, and thus we no longer believe that the very early Founder account we identified in the full  bitcoin transaction graph belongs to Satoshi Nakamoto. We will revise our paper accordingly.”

But Business Insider noted that their original paper still had merit in that they found that an FBI investigation only uncovered about 22% of the Bitcoin commissions Ulbricht would have made from Silk Road, meaning that the ultimate charges against him may be increased to reflect even more money owed to the government.

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