BY ALEXANDRA GARRETT, Newsweek
14th January 2021 – (San Francisco) Stefan Thomas, a German programmer living in San Francisco, owns 7,002 bitcoins in a digital wallet, which are worth US$220 million. But the programmer can’t access the money because he lost his password, according to The New York Times.
He has tried eight times to guess the code, but with no success. Now, Thomas has just two more chances to guess his password correctly before the money is lost.
The hard drive, known as IronKey, where Thomas’ bitcoins are held allows users 10 attempts to correctly guess their password before encrypting the contents permanently.
Bitcoin also can’t help Thomas, since it doesn’t store its users’ passwords. Instead, it gives users their own private IronKey, which only they have access to.
“I would just lay in bed and think about it,” Thomas told the Times. “Then I would go to the computer with some new strategy, and it wouldn’t work, and I would be desperate again.”
Thomas was given the bitcoins as a reward for making a 2011 animated video, “What Is Bitcoin?”, explaining the cryptocurrency. The programmer said he lost the paper that the password was written on that year.
The cryptocurrency market topped $1 trillion for the first time on Thursday, according to the Independent. Bitcoin drove the market, as its price rose from below US$5,000 in late March to US$37,000 on Thursday.
The surge led to many cryptocurrency investors selling off their digital currency, which experts believe may have contributed to this week’s plunge in bitcoin value.
For now, Thomas said, he has placed the IronKey in an undisclosed secure facility in the hopes that someday cryptographers will be able to help him crack the password to his digital wallet.
Thomas told the Times that he also moved the IronKey to preserve his mental health. “I got to a point where I said to myself, Let it be in the past, just for your own mental health,” he said.
Thomas is not the only user to have a fortune locked away. According to data from Chainalysis, approximately 20 percent of the existing 18.5 million bitcoins have been lost or abandoned in digital wallets. That equates to nearly US$140 billion.
“Mr. Thomas is undoubtedly a pioneer, receiving Bitcoin as a payment well before most had even heard of cryptocurrencies,” said Jason Sheman, Bitcoin’s marketing operations manager, in an emailed statement to Newsweek on Wednesday.
“The increase in popularity of cryptocurrencies has also led to a drastic improvement in user experience,” Sheman continued. “We wish Mr. Thomas the best of luck on his last two attempts and suggest he use the simple and secure Bitcoin.com Wallet moving forward for the safekeeping of his funds.”