The mysterious creator of Bitcoin identified himself as “Satoshi Nakamoto” in the 2009 software release that kickstarted the cryptocurrency.

After playing an active role in the Bitcoin community from 2009 to 2011 — only via email, never in person or by phone — Nakamoto disappeared, leaving many people dying to know who the real person is behind this pseudonym.

But why the secrecy? The New York Times suggests one good reason: Safety.

Whoever Nakamoto is, he probably owns a lot of Bitcoins. One expert the Times talked to estimated that Nakamoto mined close to a million Bitcoins during the first year the system existed, when mining was computationally cheap and quite easy. Given the current price of Bitcoin, which is around $235, that means — if he held onto his stash — that Nakamoto is now worth over $200 million. Staying anonymous would be one way of helping ensure that fortune stayed secure.

That factoid is buried toward the end of the Times story, which lays out a case that Satoshi Nakamoto is actually Nick Szabo, a cryptography expert and polymath who has been involved in cryptocurrency both before and after the emergence of Bitcoin. Lots of people in the Bitcoin community believe that Szabo is Nakamoto, so Popper’s theory is not that outlandish, and he musters a number of pretty suggestive, if circumstantial, arguments — including lexical analysis of the words and phrases used by both.

Szabo, for his part, vehemently denies that he is Nakamoto. “I’m not Satoshi,” he told the Times writer, Nathaniel Popper, point-blank.

Who to believe? It’s hard to say. But if Szabo is Satoshi, he’s certainly not living large on his fortune. The Times notes that Szabo tends to wear beat-up black sneakers and untucked shirts, and drives a 1990s-model car.

Originally published on VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney: