Roger Ver is so well known for his role in the rise of the world's most popular digital currency that some people call him "The Bitcoin Jesus." That makes him a prime target for hackers. They've stolen his money, and they've broken into his email account. But the Bitcoin Jesus is becoming the Bitcoin Vigilante.
"I am tired of seeing real criminals, with lots of victims being ignored, while traditional law enforcement is busy going after perpetrators of victimless crimes such as those involved in the Silk Road Marketplace," Ver says.
In 2012, someone hacked the online currency exchange Bitcoinica, stealing tens of thousands of bitcoins Ver had stored there. And in May, someone broke into his old Hotmail account, using it to steal sensitive information. Then things came to a head last week, when someone infiltrated an email account belonging to another big bitcoin name: Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious founder of the digital currency. Ver thinks it was the same hacker who busted into his Hotmail account.
After all this, he's fed up with hackers—and a little mystified too. "The part that annoys me the most is that all of them are plenty smart enough to find honest work," he says. Last spring, he placed a bitcoin bounty on his Hotmail hacker. And now, he's crowdsourcing the idea, so others can offer similar bounties when they're victimized. He just launched a website called Bitcoin Bounty Hunter that pays for information leading to the conviction of the perps behind several prominent bitcoin hacks.
>The project is yet another example of the technology behind bitcoin remaking far more than currency and online payments.
The site takes advantage of bitcoin's ability to move money around the internet privately, and Ver says it could be used to let anyone anonymously create, contribute to, or collect a bounty. Naturally, bounties are paid in bitcoin.
He's currently the guy who controls the money and decides when a bounty will be paid, but he says the project is a work in progress. Eventually, he wants to use an advanced digital currency programming technique called a "smart contract" to allow bounties to be paid out automatically. The project is yet another example of the technology behind bitcoin remaking far more than currency and online payments. It's also reinventing everything from smart contracts to secure chat clients.
The site lets anyone post an anonymous bounty anytime there's a crime "with a victim," Ver says. To collect your bounty, you must assemble a dossier of evidence, get it digitally notarized using a nifty bitcoin blockchain hack called Proof of Existence, and forward it to law enforcement. Then you wait—possibly a very long time. Ver's website pays bounties only upon conviction. It's like a digital Crimestoppers that way.
Right now, the site offers 37.6 bitcoins—more than $17,000—for information leading to the conviction of whomever took over his and Satoshi's email accounts (if that's indeed what happened). Separately, Ver is setting up separate bounties for information leading to the conviction of the criminals who stole hundreds of thousands of bitcoins from the Japanese bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox and for the hackers who stole money from Bitcoinica. Ver lost 25,000 bitcoins in that hack. Ver will seed the Mt. Gox and Bitcoinica bounties with 2 BTC each, but he expects that to grow as word of his effort gets out.
Bitcoin operates like cash on the internet—there's no such thing as a chargeback—so once hackers get their hands on your money, it's generally gone for good. That has encouraged bitcoiners to take things into their own hands—whether it's protecting their bitcoins from theft by using paper wallets, or paying out bounties to help track down the criminals.
The idea of anonymous bounties has been around for close to two decades, and Ver's site—with its payouts for convictions—is actually tamer than earlier visions. Back in the 1990s, the crypto-anarchist Jim Bell outlined these ideas in an essay entitled Assassination Politics. And just last year, someone tried to bring those ideas to life with a dark web-site called Assassination Market— which WIRED's Andy Greenberg described as a "Kickstarter for political assassinations."
When we checked on Tuesday, Assassination Market was offline.