Investor With Digital Wallet Containing $220 Million in Bitcoin Forgets Password


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Imagine you realized you had $220 million in assets and all you needed was a password set a few years ago. Now imagine that you can’t quite recall the password correctly and if you enter it wrong too many times, you will lose that massive amount of money forever. 

That’s the painful conundrum facing San Francisco-based programmer, Stefan Thomas, an early Bitcoin investor who the New York Times reports could be a multimillionaire right now…but for the password.

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More details from the Times:

The password will let him unlock a small hard drive, known as an IronKey, which contains the private keys to a digital wallet that holds 7,002 Bitcoin. While the price of Bitcoin dropped sharply on Monday, it is still up more than 50 percent from just a month ago, when it passed its previous all-time high of around $20,000.

The problem is that Mr. Thomas years ago lost the paper where he wrote down the password for his IronKey, which gives users 10 guesses before it seizes up and encrypts its contents forever. He has since tried eight of his most commonly used password formulations — to no avail.

Anyone who has ever realized they needed information that might be in an old email account knows this kind of frustration, but with this much money involved it has to be so much worse than being prevented from finding an old email containing an address or account number.

Thomas definitely sounds frustrated. He tells the Times, “I would just lay in bed and think about it. Then I would go to the computer with some new strategy, and it wouldn’t work, and I would be desperate again.”

He isn’t the only person with this problem. The Times reports that out of the “existing 18.5 million Bitcoin, around 20 percent — currently worth around $140 billion — appear to be in lost or otherwise stranded wallets.”

Stefan Thomas has plenty of money from Bitcoin he did manage to keep hold of, and he has stored his locked drive “in a secure facility” until cryptographers can come up with a way to crack passwords, though he said he is trying to tell himself to just let the past be the past and essentially not worry about it. 

On Wednesday morning Bitcoin was still below its record of $40,000 USD per BTC but on the rise again. Maybe now would be a good time to put your own BTC password in a readily accessible safe deposit box—because who knows where cryptocurrency will go from here.