Imagine having unfathomable wealth at your fingertips, around RM1 billion worth of assets—but not being able to access it because you forgot a simple password. It sounds like a simple issue to fix, right? After all, probably millions of users forget their online banking passwords everyday, and they (eventually) solve their issues by heading to the bank. However, when it comes to bitcoin, things are a little bit different.
Stefan Thomas, a San Francisco-based programmer, has two more guesses left at his digital wallet password, before he loses access to its contents forever. According to multiple reports, Thomas received 7,002 bitcoins around a decade ago as a gift after he shot a video that explained how bitcoin works. After receiving the cryptocurrency payment in his digital wallet, he moved on with his life.
Bitcoin has seen a sharp surge in value over the past couple of months, and as The Guardian reports, the price of bitcoin is up by more than 700 percent dating back to March of 2020. As such, the contents of Thomas’ bitcoin wallet are now approximately worth a staggering RM1 billion, but there’s a major problem. The programmer can’t remember the password to his digital wallet, having put it aside during the early days of bitcoin (when it wasn’t anywhere near as valuable).
Speaking to NY Times, Thomas was understandably frustrated:
“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.”
The problem for him now, is that he only has two more attempts at unlocking his IronKey hard drive (which contains the private keys to his bitcoin)—before the drive automatically becomes encrypted and he losses access forever. He has already tried eight possible combinations, but for now, his fortune remains locked away.
And of course, this being bitcoin, he doesn’t have the fallback or recourse of asking the bank, or even a central bank, to help him out. There isn’t a “forgot password” option, no way to change his password with a phone number or an old email. In fact, the whole experience has turned the programmer off from cryptocurrency in general, as he explained:
“This whole idea of being your own bank—let me put it this way, do you make your own shoes? The reason we have banks is that we don’t want to deal with all those things that banks do.”
Thomas isn’t the only would-be billionaire facing this issue. According to crypto-data firm Chainalysis, around 20 percent of bitcoin in circulation is estimated to be lost in inaccessible wallets—and of course, forgotten passwords are a big reason for that.