Programmer Stefan Thomas, a former manager of Ripple, has two attempts left to guess the password that opens access to $220 million in bitcoin. His story was told by The New York Times.
The password is required to unlock the IronKey portable USB drive, which contains the keys to the wallet with 7 002 BTC. Many years ago, Thomas lost a piece of paper on which the IronKey password was written. The drive gives 10 attempts, after which it permanently encrypts its contents. Thomas had already used up eight attempts, all in vain.
"I lie in bed and think about it. Then I go to the computer with a new strategy, but it doesn't work, and I sink back into despair," he said.
Thomas is not the only one. According to estimates of the analytical company Chainalysis, of the 18.5 million existing bitcoins, 20% of the coins worth $140 billion can be considered lost. In the firm for restoring access to wallets, Wallet Recovery Services said that against the background of the recent rise in the price of bitcoin to new highs, they receive 70 requests per day, which is three times higher than the values of the previous month.
"Over the past years I spent several hundred hours in trying to enter into these purses," stated entrepreneur brad Yasar. He has several computers containing thousands of bitcoins that he mined in the early days of the cryptocurrency. He, too, lost his passwords years ago and put the hard drives in sealed bags out of sight.
"I don't want to remember every day that I have only a small part of what could have been, but I lost it," he shared.
Diogo Monica, co-founder of Anchorage, a cryptocurrency storage startup, opened the firm in 2017 after helping a hedge fund regain access to bitcoin wallets. "Even advanced investors were completely unable to somehow organize the management of private keys," he said.
Thomas said that one of the reasons for his interest in bitcoin was the lack of control of the cryptocurrency by the state or any company. In 2011, when he was living in Switzerland, one of the early supporters of the cryptocurrency paid him 7,002 BTC for the following animated video about bitcoin:
In the same year, he lost the keys to his wallet. As the price of bitcoin rose, Thomas began to question the idea that people should be their own banks: "Do you make shoes for yourself? That's why we have banks, so we don't have to do all the things they do."
Barbadian entrepreneur Gabriel Abed lost 800 bitcoins after a colleague formatted his laptop's hard drive with wallet keys in 2011. However, Abed is not disappointed in the cryptocurrency. Before that, he had no access to financial products, including bank cards and accounts, and even opening a PayPal account in Barbados was then almost impossible.
"The risk of being my own bank for me is associated with the ability to freely access my money and be a citizen of the world. It's worth it," Abed said.
Both Thomas and Abed subsequently earned large sums on cryptocurrency. Abed said that he has since managed to buy and sell many more bitcoins and as a result bought a 100-acre plot of land on the ocean coast in Barbados for more than $25 million. Thomas admits that he has saved enough bitcoins to now have more money than he would know where to spend. He started working for Ripple in 2012 and in addition received a reward from the company in XRP.
Thomas placed his IronKey in a secure vault, the location of which he refused to disclose, in case cryptographers came up with a new way to crack complex passwords. He claims that by removing the drive away, he was able to stop constantly thinking about it. "I got to the point where I decided,' Let this be a thing of the past, just for your mental health, ' "he added.