Man Has Two Guesses To Get His Forgotten Password Correct Or Lose $240 Million In Bitcoin

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockJan 13 2021, 17:55 UTC
Bitcoin mine.

Image credit: Mark Agnor/

Almost 10 years ago, programmer Stefan Thomas created an animated video titled "What Is Bitcoin" for a Bitcoin enthusiast in Switzerland. 

For his trouble, he was of course paid in Bitcoin, 7,002 Bitcoins to be precise. At the time the coins were only worth around $2 each, which is still pretty good for a short and relatively simple animation. Bitcoins are now worth around $34,500, making his Bitcoin worth $241,569,000.


The $240,000,000 video, making it more expensive to make than The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Sounds pretty great right, a real happy tale of good fortune and patience. Not so fast there, buddy. You see, being the security-conscious type, Thomas kept the Bitcoin on his encrypted IronKey hard drive. The IronKey gives whoever is trying to access it 10 guesses before it basically self-destructs, making it inaccessible to anyone.

This is great when it's some other nefarious character trying to access your $200, but less than ideal when that nefarious person is you 10 years on with absolutely no memory of what the password is, and the amount you're attempting to access is $240 million. Which is precisely what happened to Thomas, having lost the piece of paper on which he'd noted his password, the New York Times reports.


In the intervening years, Thomas has tried to access the drive in an attempt to get to his millions, but with no luck. As you can imagine, it's left him somewhat stressed.

“I would just lay in bed and think about it,” 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.”

He has now used eight of his 10 guesses. Two more, and it's gone.

Without suddenly remembering it or finding the old piece of paper, his chances of being able to access it are pretty slim. However, some techies believe it could be possible to crack the code.

"For $220M 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," Alex Stamos of the Stanford Internet Observatory wrote in a Twitter thread.

"We're not talking about some NSA-built cryptoprocessor installed on an SSBN, but an old $50 piece of consumer kit. There is no way it's hardened against the last ten years of USENIX papers that have never been used in practice."

Let's hope he's right, otherwise Thomas could join British IT worker James Howells, who lost 7,500 bitcoin – 498 more than Thomas – when he accidentally dumped a hard drive he'd saved it on in 2013. 

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