Finney was a strong advocate for individual privacy. He was an active member of the Cypherpunks, a group of individuals dedicated to preserving personal privacy through cryptography and came across the Bitcoin whitepaper through the Cypherpunks’ mailing list.
After taking part in the first Bitcoin transaction, discovering a few bugs, and engaging in a brief correspondence with Satoshi, Finney moved on to other projects. He returned to Bitcoin a year later after realizing that the project had expanded, and the currency gained value. He loved programming and continued to work on Bitcoin-related projects until the end of his life.
A crypto pioneer, Finney is remembered for his valuable contributions to the Bitcoin ecosystem in the very early days, with some even speculating that he was the individual behind the “Satoshi Nakamoto” moniker. Finney passed away at the age of 58 in 2014 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease.
Finney was born in Fresno County, California in 1956. He attended the California Institute of Technology, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in 1979.
After graduation, he worked as a computer programmer for a video game company.
Role in the cryptocurrency community
Finney was an advocate for individual privacy since the early 1990’s. He worried about the possibility of governments or intuitions spying on citizens and began contributing to cryptography, the study of secure communication.
“The work we are doing here, broadly speaking, is dedicated to this goal of making Big Brother obsolete,” he wrote to an online group of privacy activists.
The P.G.P. project
Finney volunteered for Pretty Good Privacy, or P.G.P., a software project founded by Philip Zimmermann that allowed people to communicate securely through a bulletin board service. The P.G.P. software featured an implementation of public-key cryptography, a protocol that is still used for encryption in many blockchain projects, including Bitcoin.
Cypherpunks and privacy projects
While at P.G.P., Finney became an active member of the Cypherpunks, an online group of cryptologists, computer scientists, politicians, and others who valued monetary decentralization and privacy. He was a regular poster on the Cypherpunks listserv.
During this time, he helped build the first anonymous remailer, a server that receives an encrypted message and forwards it without revealing where it came from.
Through his connections with Cypherpunks, Finney became interested in the concept of an anonymous digital money system. He was involved with multiple experiments in creating early digital currencies, including the first Proof of Work-based currency, called RPOW. The currency didn’t succeed, but the protocol served as a foundation for future digital monetary systems.
Finney learned about Bitcoin through an email from Satoshi announcing the project to the Cypherpunks cryptology mailing list. Members of the group were initially skeptical of the idea, but Finney saw its potential and defended the project. He later wrote: “Cryptographers have seen too many grand schemes by clueless noobs. They tend to have a knee jerk reaction.”
He downloaded the Bitcoin software on the day it was released. The next day, on January 12, 2009, he participated in the first Bitcoin transaction, receiving 10 bitcoins from Satoshi.
Finney mined several blocks, reported a few bugs in the software, and maintained a brief email correspondence with Satoshi. He eventually turned off the software because it required significant computing power, noting that it made his “computer run hot, and the fan noise bothered me.”
He forgot about the project until the following year, surprised to find that not only was Bitcoin still going, but the currency had actually gained value. As the price climbed, Finney transferred his coins into an offline wallet for security.
Rumors about Satoshi’s identity
Over the years, some crypto enthusiasts have speculated that Hal Finney is Satoshi Nakamoto. While Finney certainly had the cryptographic knowledge, technical expertise, and connections to create a system like Bitcoin, he emphatically denied being Satoshi.
Of his correspondence with Satoshi, he wrote: “Today, Satoshi's true identity has become a mystery. But at the time, I thought I was dealing with a young man of Japanese ancestry who was very smart and sincere. I've had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the course of my life, so I recognize the signs.”
ALS diagnosis and death
Finney was diagnosed with ALS in 2009. The disease made him paralyzed in the last years of his life. However, he continued building new software, including programming a new type of Bitcoin wallet. “It's very slow, probably 50 times slower than I was before. But I still love programming and it gives me goals,” he wrote.
His family was able to sell some of the bitcoin he acquired in the early days to help pay for medical care.
Finney died in August 2014 of the disease. He is cryopreserved at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.
In the year before he died, he wrote a blog post titled “Bitcoin and Me,” chronicling his journey with the Bitcoin project. He says:
“I'm pretty lucky overall. Even with the ALS, my life is very satisfying. But my life expectancy is limited…My bitcoins are stored in our safe deposit box, and my son and daughter are tech savvy. I think they're safe enough. I'm comfortable with my legacy.”
Hal Finney essentials
- Hal Finney was a computer programmer and cryptologist, known for making the first Bitcoin transaction with Satoshi.
- Finney was a strong advocate for personal privacy and made valuable contributions to early encryption projects.
- Finney died in 2014 of ALS disease.