Stefan Thomas calls it ‘painful’ and for many that would be an understatement.
The San Francisco-based computer programmer has forgotten a password. Not just any password, but the key to his “digital wallet” which happens to contain 7002 Bitcoins currently valued at more than $300 million.
They were given to him a decade ago as a reward for making an animated video explaining how the cryptocurrency works.
Bitcoin prices fluctuated that year, as they do now, and were worth anything from $2 to a peak of $32.
On Wednesday a single Bitcoin was fetching nearly $43,000, having edged past $50,000 earlier in the week.
But Mr Thomas can’t recall the password that will unlock his fortune.
He has already entered the wrong password eight times, and if he guesses wrong two more times his hard drive, which contains his private keys to the Bitcoin, will be encrypted – and he will be permanently locked out from his fortune.
The price of Bitcoin is up by more than 700 per cent since the pandemic was first declared in March last year.
Mr Thomas said he has tried his eight most frequently used passwords to access his IronKey hard drive, to no avail.
The device auto-encrypts all contents after the 10th incorrect guess.
“I would just lay in bed and think about it,” Mr Thomas told the New York Times. “Then I would go to the computer with some new strategy, and it wouldn’t work, and I would be desperate again.”
A forlorn Mr Thomas says the experience has put him off cryptocurrencies.
“This whole idea of being your own bank – let me put it this way, do you make your own shoes?” he said.
“The reason we have banks is that we don’t want to deal with all those things that banks do.”
All may not be lost, however – albeit at a hefty price.
Following the publicity of Mr Thomas’ plight, Alex Stamos, an internet security expert at Stanford Internet Observatory, joked that he could crack the password within six months if Mr Thomas gave him a 10 per cent cut of the digital fortune.
“Um, for $220 million in locked-up Bitcoin, you don’t make 10 password guesses but take it to professionals to buy 20 IronKeys and spend six months finding a side-channel or uncapping,” he said on Twitter. “I’ll make it happen for 10 per cent. Call me.”
Lost passwords are a common lament, especially among Bitcoin holders who got in early – cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis said it estimated that about 20 per cent of the existing 18.5 million Bitcoins appear to be lost or stranded in inaccessible wallets.
In 2013, Welsh IT worker James Howells accidentally threw out a hard drive containing the keys to 7500 Bitcoins.
At the time, the lost Bitcoins were worth about £4m. Now, they would be worth more than $250 million.
“After I had stopped mining, the laptop I had used was broken into parts and sold on eBay. However, I kept the hard drive in a drawer at home knowing it contained my Bitcoin private keys, so that if Bitcoin did become valuable one day I would still have the coins I had mined,” he told the Telegraph.