The German-born San Francisco programmer has so far used eight out of ten attempts to unlock the hard drive that contains the private keys of the Bitcoin wallet, which contains 7002 Bitcoin (BTC). At the time of publication, these holdings were valued at $ 268 million – that is, if available.
According to a New York Times profile on January 12, Stephen Thomas uses a static engine called IronKey, but he lost the sheet on which he wrote the device password “many years ago.” If Thomas does not remember, 10 unsuccessful attempts will permanently encrypt the contents of the disk. So far he has tried eight guesses without success.
“I was lying in bed thinking about it. Then I went to the computer with some new strategies, and it did not work, and I felt hopeless again.”
According to Chainalysis, around 20% of all existing bitcoins – 18.5 million bitcoins – are lost forever in so-called “parked” wallets. Thomas is not alone in his direct despair: Los Angeles businessman Brad Yasar told The Times that over the years, “I say I’ve wasted hundreds of hours” trying to get back into an inaccessible wallet.
Yasar kept his hard drives “in vacuum bags” so that he did not “remember every day that what I have now is only a fraction of what I could have gained and what I lost.”
Both are not uncommon: Wallet Retrieval Services, a company that specializes in recovering lost digital keys, receives 70 requests per day from customers seeking help. This figure is three times higher than it was before the beef market.
Thomas’ experience seems to distance him from the concept of technology, which places the burden on the responsibility of individual users to take their financial affairs into their own hands – with all the freedom and risk involved. Originally, he received 70002 BTC as a gift in exchange for making a video that introduced people to the currency, and now he is skeptical about giving users this degree of control:
“The whole idea of being your own bank – let me describe it this way: Do you make your own shoes? The reason we have banks is that we do not want to do everything the banks do.”
Apart from the extraordinary losses, Thomas has still kept enough Bitcoin over the years to earn a fortune – he is said to be so wealthy that he hardly knows what to do with it, to write about the report. He later joined Ripple and bought XRP, although the company’s recent legal difficulties could overshadow the future prospects of the project.
The report notes that similar risks exist when users trust the keys of third-party managers – with reference to Mt. Gox and other industry crime, but it includes comments from those who believe that the cryptocurrency exchange is ultimately worth it.
An entrepreneur in Barbados, despite losing 800 BTC earlier, says that “the risk of being my own bank is related to reward in the form of being able to access my money freely and be a world citizen.” His view from a corner of the world where affordability is still an issue provides insight into why so many people may continue to think this way.