Re: Bitcoin P2P e-cash paper

Satoshi Nakamoto Sat, 01 Nov 2008 16:16:33 -0700

I've been working on a new electronic cash system that's fully
peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party.

The paper is available at:

The main properties:
Double-spending is prevented with a peer-to-peer network.
No mint or other trusted parties.
Participants can be anonymous.
New coins are made from Hashcash style proof-of-work.
The proof-of-work for new coin generation also powers the
network to prevent double-spending.

Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System

Abstract. A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would
allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another
without the burdens of going through a financial institution.
Digital signatures provide part of the solution, but the main
benefits are lost if a trusted party is still required to prevent
double-spending. We propose a solution to the double-spending
problem using a peer-to-peer network. The network timestamps
transactions by hashing them into an ongoing chain of hash-based
proof-of-work, forming a record that cannot be changed without
redoing the proof-of-work. The longest chain not only serves as
proof of the sequence of events witnessed, but proof that it came
from the largest pool of CPU power. As long as honest nodes control
the most CPU power on the network, they can generate the longest
chain and outpace any attackers. The network itself requires
minimal structure. Messages are broadcasted on a best effort basis,
and nodes can leave and rejoin the network at will, accepting the
longest proof-of-work chain as proof of what happened while they
were gone.

Full paper at:

Satoshi Nakamoto

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James A. Donald Sun, 02 Nov 2008 17:55:45 -0800

Satoshi Nakamoto wrote:

I've been working on a new electronic cash system that's fully
peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party.

The paper is available at:

We very, very much need such a system, but the way I understand your proposal, it does not seem to scale to the required size.

For transferable proof of work tokens to have value, they must have monetary value. To have monetary value, they must be transferred within a very large network - for example a file trading network akin to bittorrent.

To detect and reject a double spending event in a timely manner, one must have most past transactions of the coins in the transaction, which, naively implemented, requires each peer to have most past transactions, or most past transactions that occurred recently. If hundreds of millions of people are doing transactions, that is a lot of bandwidth - each must know all, or a substantial part thereof.

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Satoshi Nakamoto Sun, 02 Nov 2008 17:56:27 -0800

Long before the network gets anywhere near as large as that, it would be safe
for users to use Simplified Payment Verification (section 8) to check for
double spending, which only requires having the chain of block headers, or
about 12KB per day. Only people trying to create new coins would need to run
network nodes. At first, most users would run network nodes, but as the
network grows beyond a certain point, it would be left more and more to
specialists with server farms of specialized hardware. A server farm would
only need to have one node on the network and the rest of the LAN connects with
that one node.

The bandwidth might not be as prohibitive as you think. A typical transaction
would be about 400 bytes (ECC is nicely compact). Each transaction has to be
broadcast twice, so lets say 1KB per transaction. Visa processed 37 billion
transactions in FY2008, or an average of 100 million transactions per day.
That many transactions would take 100GB of bandwidth, or the size of 12 DVD or
2 HD quality movies, or about $18 worth of bandwidth at current prices.

If the network were to get that big, it would take several years, and by then,
sending 2 HD movies over the Internet would probably not seem like a big deal.

Satoshi Nakamoto

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Satoshi Nakamoto Mon, 03 Nov 2008 11:45:58 -0800

As long as honest nodes control the most CPU power on the network,
they can generate the longest chain and outpace any attackers.

But they don't. Bad guys routinely control zombie farms of 100,000
machines or more. People I know who run a blacklist of spam sending
zombies tell me they often see a million new zombies a day.

This is the same reason that hashcash can't work on today's Internet
-- the good guys have vastly less computational firepower than the bad

Thanks for bringing up that point.

I didn't really make that statement as strong as I could have. The requirement
is that the good guys collectively have more CPU power than any single

There would be many smaller zombie farms that are not big enough to overpower
the network, and they could still make money by generating bitcoins. The
smaller farms are then the "honest nodes". (I need a better term than
"honest") The more smaller farms resort to generating bitcoins, the higher the
bar gets to overpower the network, making larger farms also too small to
overpower it so that they may as well generate bitcoins too. According to the
"long tail" theory, the small, medium and merely large farms put together
should add up to a lot more than the biggest zombie farm.

Even if a bad guy does overpower the network, it's not like he's instantly
rich. All he can accomplish is to take back money he himself spent, like
bouncing a check. To exploit it, he would have to buy something from a
merchant, wait till it ships, then overpower the network and try to take his
money back. I don't think he could make as much money trying to pull a carding
scheme like that as he could by generating bitcoins. With a zombie farm that
big, he could generate more bitcoins than everyone else combined.

The Bitcoin network might actually reduce spam by diverting zombie farms to
generating bitcoins instead.

Satoshi Nakamoto

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Satoshi Nakamoto Fri, 07 Nov 2008 09:30:36 -0800

[Lengthy exposition of vulnerability of a systm to use-of-force
monopolies ellided.]

You will not find a solution to political problems in cryptography.

Yes, but we can win a major battle in the arms race and gain a new territory of
freedom for several years.

Governments are good at cutting off the heads of a centrally controlled
networks like Napster, but pure P2P networks like Gnutella and Tor seem to be
holding their own.


Satoshi Nakamoto Sat, 08 Nov 2008 13:38:26 -0800

Ray Dillinger:

the "currency" is inflationary at about 35%
as that's how much faster computers get annually
... the inflation rate of 35% is almost guaranteed
by the technology

Increasing hardware speed is handled: "To compensate for increasing hardware
speed and varying interest in running nodes over time, the proof-of-work
difficulty is determined by a moving average targeting an average number of
blocks per hour. If they're generated too fast, the difficulty increases."

As computers get faster and the total computing power applied to creating
bitcoins increases, the difficulty increases proportionally to keep the total
new production constant. Thus, it is known in advance how many new bitcoins
will be created every year in the future.

The fact that new coins are produced means the money supply increases by a
planned amount, but this does not necessarily result in inflation. If the
supply of money increases at the same rate that the number of people using it
increases, prices remain stable. If it does not increase as fast as demand,
there will be deflation and early holders of money will see its value increase.

Coins have to get initially distributed somehow, and a constant rate seems like
the best formula.

Satoshi Nakamoto

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Satoshi Nakamoto Sun, 09 Nov 2008 11:13:34 -0800

Hal Finney wrote:

it is mentioned that if a broadcast transaction does not reach all nodes,
it is OK, as it will get into the block chain before long. How does this
happen - what if the node that creates the "next" block (the first node
to find the hashcash collision) did not hear about the transaction,
and then a few more blocks get added also by nodes that did not hear
about that transaction? Do all the nodes that did hear it keep that
transaction around, hoping to incorporate it into a block once they get
lucky enough to be the one which finds the next collision?

Right, nodes keep transactions in their working set until they get into a
block. If a transaction reaches 90% of nodes, then each time a new block is
found, it has a 90% chance of being in it.

Or for example, what if a node is keeping two or more chains around as
it waits to see which grows fastest, and a block comes in for chain A
which would include a double-spend of a coin that is in chain B? Is that
checked for or not? (This might happen if someone double-spent and two
different sets of nodes heard about the two different transactions with
the same coin.)

That does not need to be checked for. The transaction in whichever branch ends
up getting ahead becomes the valid one, the other is invalid. If someone tries
to double spend like that, one and only one spend will always become valid, the
others invalid.

Receivers of transactions will normally need to hold transactions for perhaps
an hour or more to allow time for this kind of possibility to be resolved.
They can still re-spend the coins immediately, but they should wait before
taking an action such as shipping goods.

I also don't understand exactly how double-spending, or cancelling
transactions, is accomplished by a superior attacker who is able to muster
more computing power than all the honest participants. I see that he can
create new blocks and add them to create the longest chain, but how can
he erase or add old transactions in the chain? As the attacker sends out
his new blocks, aren't there consistency checks which honest nodes can
perform, to make sure that nothing got erased? More explanation of this
attack would be helpful, in order to judge the gains to an attacker from
this, versus simply using his computing power to mint new coins honestly.

The attacker isn't adding blocks to the end. He has to go back and redo the
block his transaction is in and all the blocks after it, as well as any new
blocks the network keeps adding to the end while he's doing that. He's
rewriting history. Once his branch is longer, it becomes the new valid one.

This touches on a key point. Even though everyone present may see the
shenanigans going on, there's no way to take advantage of that fact.

It is strictly necessary that the longest chain is always considered the valid
one. Nodes that were present may remember that one branch was there first and
got replaced by another, but there would be no way for them to convince those
who were not present of this. We can't have subfactions of nodes that cling to
one branch that they think was first, others that saw another branch first, and
others that joined later and never saw what happened. The CPU power
proof-of-work vote must have the final say. The only way for everyone to stay
on the same page is to believe that the longest chain is always the valid one,
no matter what.

As far as the spending transactions, what checks does the recipient of a
coin have to perform? Does she need to go back through the coin's entire
history of transfers, and make sure that every transaction on the list is
indeed linked into the "timestamp" block chain? Or can she just do the
latest one?

The recipient just needs to verify it back to a depth that is sufficiently far
back in the block chain, which will often only require a depth of 2
transactions. All transactions before that can be discarded.

Do the timestamp nodes check transactions, making sure that
the previous transaction on a coin is in the chain, thereby enforcing
the rule that all transactions in the chain represent valid coins?

Right, exactly. When a node receives a block, it checks the signatures of
every transaction in it against previous transactions in blocks. Blocks can
only contain transactions that depend on valid transactions in previous blocks
or the same block. Transaction C could depend on transaction B in the same
block and B depends on transaction A in an earlier block.

Sorry about all the questions, but as I said this does seem to be a
very promising and original idea, and I am looking forward to seeing
how the concept is further developed. It would be helpful to see a more
process oriented description of the idea, with concrete details of the
data structures for the various objects (coins, blocks, transactions),
the data which is included in messages, and algorithmic descriptions
of the procedures for handling the various events which would occur in
this system. You mentioned that you are working on an implementation,
but I think a more formal, text description of the system would be a
helpful next step.

I appreciate your questions. I actually did this kind of backwards. I had to
write all the code before I could convince myself that I could solve every
problem, then I wrote the paper. I think I will be able to release the code
sooner than I could write a detailed spec. You're already right about most of
your assumptions where you filled in the blanks.

Satoshi Nakamoto

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Satoshi Nakamoto Sun, 09 Nov 2008 11:17:24 -0800

James A. Donald wrote:

OK, suppose one node incorporates a bunch of
transactions in its proof of work, all of them honest
legitimate single spends and another node incorporates a
different bunch of transactions in its proof of
work, all of them equally honest legitimate single
spends, and both proofs are generated at about the same

What happens then?

They both broadcast their blocks. All nodes receive them and keep both, but
only work on the one they received first. We'll suppose exactly half received
one first, half the other.

In a short time, all the transactions will finish propagating so that everyone
has the full set. The nodes working on each side will be trying to add the
transactions that are missing from their side. When the next proof-of-work is
found, whichever previous block that node was working on, that branch becomes
longer and the tie is broken. Whichever side it is, the new block will contain
the other half of the transactions, so in either case, the branch will contain
all transactions. Even in the unlikely event that a split happened twice in a
row, both sides of the second split would contain the full set of transactions

It's not a problem if transactions have to wait one or a few extra cycles to
get into a block.

Satoshi Nakamoto

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Satoshi Nakamoto Sun, 09 Nov 2008 11:14:17 -0800

James A. Donald wrote:

The core concept is that lots of entities keep complete and consistent
information as to who owns which bitcoins.

But maintaining consistency is tricky. It is not clear to me what
happens when someone reports one transaction to one maintainer, and
someone else transports another transaction to another maintainer. The
transaction cannot be known to be valid until it has been incorporated
into a globally shared view of all past transactions, and no one can
know that a globally shared view of all past transactions is globally
shared until after some time has passed, and after many new
transactions have arrived.

Did you explain how to do this, and it just passed over my head, or
were you confident it could be done, and a bit vague as to the details?

The proof-of-work chain is the solution to the synchronisation problem, and to
knowing what the globally shared view is without having to trust anyone.

A transaction will quickly propagate throughout the network, so if two versions
of the same transaction were reported at close to the same time, the one with
the head start would have a big advantage in reaching many more nodes first.
Nodes will only accept the first one they see, refusing the second one to
arrive, so the earlier transaction would have many more nodes working on
incorporating it into the next proof-of-work. In effect, each node votes for
its viewpoint of which transaction it saw first by including it in its
proof-of-work effort.

If the transactions did come at exactly the same time and there was an even
split, it's a toss up based on which gets into a proof-of-work first, and that
decides which is valid.

When a node finds a proof-of-work, the new block is propagated throughout the
network and everyone adds it to the chain and starts working on the next block
after it. Any nodes that had the other transaction will stop trying to include
it in a block, since it's now invalid according to the accepted chain.

The proof-of-work chain is itself self-evident proof that it came from the
globally shared view. Only the majority of the network together has enough CPU
power to generate such a difficult chain of proof-of-work. Any user, upon
receiving the proof-of-work chain, can see what the majority of the network has
approved. Once a transaction is hashed into a link that's a few links back in
the chain, it is firmly etched into the global history.

Satoshi Nakamoto

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Satoshi Nakamoto Mon, 10 Nov 2008 11:09:26 -0800

James A. Donald wrote:

Furthermore, it cannot be made to work, as in the
proposed system the work of tracking who owns what coins
is paid for by seigniorage, which requires inflation.

If you're having trouble with the inflation issue, it's easy to tweak it for
transaction fees instead. It's as simple as this: let the output value from
any transaction be 1 cent less than the input value. Either the client
software automatically writes transactions for 1 cent more than the intended
payment value, or it could come out of the payee's side. The incentive value
when a node finds a proof-of-work for a block could be the total of the fees in
the block.

Satoshi Nakamoto

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Satoshi Nakamoto Tue, 11 Nov 2008 06:30:22 -0800

James A. Donald wrote:

So what happened to the coin that lost the race?

... it is a bit harsh if the guy who came second
is likely to lose his coin.

When there are multiple double-spent versions of the same transaction, one and
only one will become valid.

The receiver of a payment must wait an hour or so before believing that it's
valid. The network will resolve any possible double-spend races by then.

The guy who received the double-spend that became invalid never thought he had
it in the first place. His software would have shown the transaction go from
"unconfirmed" to "invalid". If necessary, the UI can be made to hide
transactions until they're sufficiently deep in the block chain.

Further, your description of events implies restrictions
on timing and coin generation - that the entire network
generates coins slowly compared to the time required for
news of a new coin to flood the network

Sorry if I didn't make that clear. The target time between blocks will
probably be 10 minutes.

Every block includes its creation time. If the time is off by more than 36
hours, other nodes won't work on it. If the timespan over the last 62430
blocks is less than 15 days, blocks are being generated too fast and the
proof-of-work difficulty doubles. Everyone does the same calculation with the
same chain data, so they all get the same result at the same link in the chain.

We want spenders to have certainty that their
transaction is valid at the time it takes a spend to
flood the network, not at the time it takes for branch
races to be resolved.

Instantant non-repudiability is not a feature, but it's still much faster than
existing systems. Paper cheques can bounce up to a week or two later. Credit
card transactions can be contested up to 60 to 180 days later. Bitcoin
transactions can be sufficiently irreversible in an hour or two.

If one node is ignoring all spends that it does not
care about, it suffers no adverse consequences.

With the transaction fee based incentive system I recently posted, nodes would
have an incentive to include all the paying transactions they receive.

Satoshi Nakamoto

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Satoshi Nakamoto Thu, 13 Nov 2008 19:34:25 -0800

James A. Donald wrote:

It is not sufficient that everyone knows X. We also
need everyone to know that everyone knows X, and that
everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows X

  • which, as in the Byzantine Generals problem, is the
    classic hard problem of distributed data processing.

The proof-of-work chain is a solution to the Byzantine Generals' Problem. I'll
try to rephrase it in that context.

A number of Byzantine Generals each have a computer and want to attack the
King's wi-fi by brute forcing the password, which they've learned is a certain
number of characters in length. Once they stimulate the network to generate a
packet, they must crack the password within a limited time to break in and
erase the logs, otherwise they will be discovered and get in trouble. They
only have enough CPU power to crack it fast enough if a majority of them attack
at the same time.

They don't particularly care when the attack will be, just that they all agree.
It has been decided that anyone who feels like it will announce a time, and
whatever time is heard first will be the official attack time. The problem is
that the network is not instantaneous, and if two generals announce different
attack times at close to the same time, some may hear one first and others hear
the other first.

They use a proof-of-work chain to solve the problem. Once each general
receives whatever attack time he hears first, he sets his computer to solve an
extremely difficult proof-of-work problem that includes the attack time in its
hash. The proof-of-work is so difficult, it's expected to take 10 minutes of
them all working at once before one of them finds a solution. Once one of the
generals finds a proof-of-work, he broadcasts it to the network, and everyone
changes their current proof-of-work computation to include that proof-of-work
in the hash they're working on. If anyone was working on a different attack
time, they switch to this one, because its proof-of-work chain is now longer.

After two hours, one attack time should be hashed by a chain of 12
proofs-of-work. Every general, just by verifying the difficulty of the
proof-of-work chain, can estimate how much parallel CPU power per hour was
expended on it and see that it must have required the majority of the computers
to produce that much proof-of-work in the allotted time. They had to all have
seen it because the proof-of-work is proof that they worked on it. If the CPU
power exhibited by the proof-of-work chain is sufficient to crack the password,
they can safely attack at the agreed time.

The proof-of-work chain is how all the synchronisation, distributed database
and global view problems you've asked about are solved.

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Satoshi Nakamoto Fri, 14 Nov 2008 14:29:22 -0800

Hal Finney wrote:

I think it is necessary that nodes keep a separate
pending-transaction list associated with each candidate chain.
... One might also ask ... how many candidate chains must
a given node keep track of at one time, on average?

Fortunately, it's only necessary to keep a pending-transaction pool for the
current best branch. When a new block arrives for the best branch,
ConnectBlock removes the block's transactions from the pending-tx pool. If a
different branch becomes longer, it calls DisconnectBlock on the main branch
down to the fork, returning the block transactions to the pending-tx pool, and
calls ConnectBlock on the new branch, sopping back up any transactions that
were in both branches. It's expected that reorgs like this would be rare and

With this optimisation, candidate branches are not really any burden. They
just sit on the disk and don't require attention unless they ever become the
main chain.

Or as James raised earlier, if the network broadcast
is reliable but depends on a potentially slow flooding
algorithm, how does that impact performance?

Broadcasts will probably be almost completely reliable. TCP transmissions are
rarely ever dropped these days, and the broadcast protocol has a retry
mechanism to get the data from other nodes after a while. If broadcasts turn
out to be slower in practice than expected, the target time between blocks may
have to be increased to avoid wasting resources. We want blocks to usually
propagate in much less time than it takes to generate them, otherwise nodes
would spend too much time working on obsolete blocks.

I'm planning to run an automated test with computers randomly sending payments
to each other and randomly dropping packets.

  1. The bitcoin system turns out to be socially useful and valuable, so
    that node operators feel that they are making a beneficial contribution
    to the world by their efforts (similar to the various "@Home" compute
    projects where people volunteer their compute resources for good causes).

In this case it seems to me that simple altruism can suffice to keep the
network running properly.

It's very attractive to the libertarian viewpoint if we can explain it
properly. I'm better with code than with words though.

Satoshi Nakamoto

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Satoshi Nakamoto Mon, 17 Nov 2008 09:04:47 -0800

I'll try and hurry up and release the sourcecode as soon as possible to serve
as a reference to help clear up all these implementation questions.

Ray Dillinger (Bear) wrote:

When a coin is spent, the buyer and seller digitally sign a (blinded)
transaction record.

Only the buyer signs, and there's no blinding.

If someone double spends, then the transaction record
can be unblinded revealing the identity of the cheater.

Identities are not used, and there's no reliance on recourse. It's all

This is done via a fairly standard cut-and-choose
algorithm where the buyer responds to several challenges
with secret shares

No challenges or secret shares. A basic transaction is just what you see in
the figure in section 2. A signature (of the buyer) satisfying the public key
of the previous transaction, and a new public key (of the seller) that must be
satisfied to spend it the next time.

They may also receive chains as long as the one they're trying to
extend while they work, in which the last few "links" are links
that are not in common with the chain on which they're working.
These they ignore.

Right, if it's equal in length, ties are broken by keeping the earliest one

If it contains a double spend, then they create a "transaction"
which is a proof of double spending, add it to their pool A,
broadcast it, and continue work.

There's no need for reporting of "proof of double spending" like that. If the
same chain contains both spends, then the block is invalid and rejected.

Same if a block didn't have enough proof-of-work. That block is invalid and
rejected. There's no need to circulate a report about it. Every node could
see that and reject it before relaying it.

If there are two competing chains, each containing a different version of the
same transaction, with one trying to give money to one person and the other
trying to give the same money to someone else, resolving which of the spends is
valid is what the whole proof-of-work chain is about.

We're not "on the lookout" for double spends to sound the alarm and catch the
cheater. We merely adjudicate which one of the spends is valid. Receivers of
transactions must wait a few blocks to make sure that resolution has had time
to complete. Would be cheaters can try and simultaneously double-spend all
they want, and all they accomplish is that within a few blocks, one of the
spends becomes valid and the others become invalid. Any later double-spends
are immediately rejected once there's already a spend in the main chain.

Even if an earlier spend wasn't in the chain yet, if it was already in all the
nodes' pools, then the second spend would be turned away by all those nodes
that already have the first spend.

If the new chain is accepted, then they give up on adding their
current link, dump all the transactions from pool L back into pool
A (along with transactions they've received or created since
starting work), eliminate from pool A those transaction records
which are already part of a link in the new chain, and start work
again trying to extend the new chain.

Right. They also refresh whenever a new transaction comes in, so L pretty much
contains everything in A all the time.

CPU-intensive digital signature algorithm to
sign the chain including the new block L.

It's a Hashcash style SHA-256 proof-of-work (partial pre-image of zero), not a

Is there a mechanism to make sure that the "chain" does not consist
solely of links added by just the 3 or 4 fastest nodes? 'Cause a
broadcast transaction record could easily miss those 3 or 4 nodes
and if it does, and those nodes continue to dominate the chain, the
transaction might never get added.

If you're thinking of it as a CPU-intensive digital signing, then you may be
thinking of a race to finish a long operation first and the fastest always

The proof-of-work is a Hashcash style SHA-256 collision finding. It's a
memoryless process where you do millions of hashes a second, with a small
chance of finding one each time. The 3 or 4 fastest nodes' dominance would
only be proportional to their share of the total CPU power. Anyone's chance of
finding a solution at any time is proportional to their CPU power.

There will be transaction fees, so nodes will have an incentive to receive and
include all the transactions they can. Nodes will eventually be compensated by
transaction fees alone when the total coins created hits the pre-determined

Also, the work requirement for adding a link to the chain should
vary (again exponentially) with the number of links added to that
chain in the previous week, causing the rate of coin generation
(and therefore inflation) to be strictly controlled.


You need coin aggregation for this to scale. There needs to be
a "provable" transaction where someone retires ten single coins
and creates a new coin with denomination ten, etc.

Every transaction is one of these. Section 9, Combining and Splitting Value.

Satoshi Nakamoto

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Satoshi Nakamoto Mon, 17 Nov 2008 09:06:02 -0800

to be continued ...

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Pascal here. I wanted to copy those message on my blog as this was the only source I found about those conversations. is not decentralized right? Nor is my blog I have to admit. Cheers!