A German programmer living in San Francisco has two attempts to access or lose a fortune of $220 million. The problem: you don’t remember your password. Stephan Thomas has 7,002 bitcoins on a hard drive and has already mistested eight passwords to access. In case of failure of the two attempts you have left, you will have lost the money forever. Ten years ago, he was paid 7,002 bitcoins for making an explanatory video on how the cryptocurrency works, the engineer told the US newspaper The New York Times. So, every bitcoin was worth between two and six dollars. This Wednesday, its price was over $34,000. The computer stored the bitcoins in a digital wallet and put the keys to unlock it on an external hard drive called IronKey, a security USB device that can be encrypted with a password and that allows the user 10 unlock attempts before being encrypted forever and ever. Thomas wrote down the hard drive password on a piece of paper and forgot about it. Ten years later, with bitcoin turned into digital gold, you can’t find the paper.
At the moment, he has tried eight of the most common passwords he uses, unsuccessfully, and declares his desperation to the New York newspaper. «I’d lie in bed and think about it,» he says, «and then go to the computer with some new strategy, which wouldn’t work, and I’d be desperate again.»
For his part, the Times says Thomas is not alone. The nature of the cryptocurrency itself means that there are many bitcoins forgotten out there in digital wallets that users do not remember the password from and have to simply see the digital currency go up and down in their volatile career. For example, just a week ago it was above $40,600 and today it reaches $36,000. An abyss, in any case, of the 5,000 that was worth right at the beginning of the pandemic that has wiped out the economy almost all over the world. In this sense, bitcoin manager Chainalysis estimates that of the 18.5 million mined bitcoins, about 20%, which would now be worth $140 billion, may be lost or in forgotten digital wallets. Wallet Recovery Services, which is dedicated to helping customers find their passwords, points to the Times that it has recently received up to 70 requests for help a day from people who want to access their digital savings. The New York newspaper tells the story of one of them, who devoted himself to the mining of bitcoins (a kind of search for the computer treasure) when the coin was created a decade ago, with no great hope that it would become what it is today, and that it keeps several hard drives in sealed bags after years of unsuccessfully trying to access them.
Finally, Thomas isn’t in too much of a hurry. He has been able to access other wallets, with passwords he did remember, to a number of bitcoins that provide him with a good fortune that he does not quantify. In addition, he joined a start-up, Ripple, in 2012, which helped improve bitcoin and was generously repaid. With the rest of the bitcoins, he says he’s put the IronKey hard drive safely waiting for some cryptographer to find a way to access it. «I have reached a point where I have said to me, Leave it in the past, for your own mental health.»