Stefan Thomas would have been £200million richer if only he could remember a forgotten password – but if he gets it wrong, the money will be lost to him forever
Crypto investor Stefan Thomas would have been sitting on a £200million fortune today if he hadn’t forgotten his Bitcoin password in 2011.
The German-born computer programmer lost a crucial piece of paper containing his password a decade ago – and he’s been unable to access his savings ever since. Now, Thomas faces being locked out of his savings forever – after using up eight of his 10 attempts to get back into his crypto account.
Thomas, who now lives in San Francisco, had been paid 7,002 in Bitcoin in 2011. His investment – which is today worth £200million – is currently locked away in a password-protected hard drive known as an IronKey. Under the terms of the security lock, if you forget your key, you have 10 attempts to try again, before it locks the digital wallet forever.
In the past decade, Thomas has used up eight of his 10 attempts hoping to regain access, but after multiple failed entries, he now has just two chances left – before his investment completely disappears into the abyss. And to make it all worse, his 7,002 investment has sky rocketed by an eye-watering 19,900 per cent since his password went missing.
That means in today’s value, it would be worth £189,905,495. He said he plans to put his IronKey in a secure facility until a better way is found to crack it. Opening up about losing his fortune earlier this year, Thomas said he felt like a “complete idiot” after forgetting the password to his wealth.
He is just one of the many Bitcoin traders who have seen their fortunes disappear since the cypto launched – with an estimated £100billion now inaccessible in the ether online. The programmer forgot the password which would allow him to unlock a hard drive known as an IronKey.
It contained the private keys to his digital wallet which still holds his Bitcoin fortune. German-born Thomas admitted his devastation at forgetting the password, saying it left him feeling like a “complete idiot”. And he admitted his forgetfulness left him questioning his self-worth and unable to sleep at night, in an interview with the New York Times.
“I was absolutely desperate. I couldn’t sleep for nights. I even suffered from depression,” he told Berliner Zeitung. “But much worse than the loss of the money was my self-reproach: I simply couldn’t believe I had lost something so important. I felt like a complete idiot, my self-esteem was in the basement.”
He said: “There were smart alecs or jokers who asked me: have you tried ‘password’? “And I’ve received all kinds of bizarre offers: several people with so-called channeling abilities contacted me and also a ‘prophet’ from Croatia. “On the other hand, there were also some technology experts and data recovery companies who offered me support.”
The programmer even created his own code to trawl through the physical hard drive to look for his Bitcoin keys – but the process left him as a “wits’ end”. However, he has not lost all hope. As well as his final two attempts, he says there’s one option left – but it’s incredibly risky.
“You would have to take the USB stick apart and then remove the chip itself layer by layer using a scanning electron microscope,” Thomas said, revealing the one last remaining way he may still be able to recoup his fund,” he said. “This would allow you to read out the individual flash memory cells.”
“But that’s incredibly time-consuming: you need a laboratory and experts, and everything costs a lot of money. And the result is very uncertain.” Either way, Thomas refuses to let the loss consume his life. “It must go on. So I went back to doing what I really wanted. And what had always motivated me was to write software that helps people,” he said.
“I threw myself back into programming. When I had a permanent job again, I bought new Bitcoins. I still have them today.” Bitcoin’s value jumped 4% on Monday after Tesla-founder Elon Musk tweeted that he was in active discussions over the sustainability of the crypto asset.
It came after a week after its value crashed following his announcement that Tesla would stop accepting the cryptocurrency due to concerns around the coin’s environmental impact. He tweeted: “Spoke with North American Bitcoin miners. They committed to publish current & planned renewable usage & to ask miners WW to do so. Potentially promising.”
Bitcoin’s founder (or group of founders) – which operates under the codename Satoshi Nakamoto – remains a mystery. Earlier this year, wallet Recovery Services told the NYT it was fielding around 70 requests a day from people who were struggling to access their Bitcoin accounts.