People horrified by story of man who lost password to $220m worth of bitcoin: ‘Panic inducing to read’

Hundreds of people are commiserating with a man who has lost his password for accessing his 7,002 bitcoin, worth about $220m, and has just two attempts left before he is locked out forever.

Speaking to The New York Times, Stefan Thomas, a German programmer living in California, revealed that he was gifted the bitcoin, which has fluctuated in value over the years before recently surging, as a reward for making an animated video about bitcoin in 2011.

According to Thomas, he  lost the password to his IronKey, an encrypted hard drive that holds the keys to his digital wallet, the same year.

Since then, Thomas told the outlet he has tried eight variations of his commonly used passwords in an attempt to gain access to his IronKey.

Unfortunately, his chances are running out, as IronKey only allows users 10 attempts before it “seizes up and encrypts its contents forever,” The Times notes.

Bitcoin is also unable to help, as it does not store passwords, but rather grants individuals who buy bitcoin a private key to their digital wallet – which only they have access to.

“I would just lay in bed and think about it,” Thomas recalled of his various attempts over the years. “Then I would go to the computer with some new strategy, and it wouldn’t work, and I would be desperate again.”

As of now, Thomas said he has put the IronKey in a “secure facility” in the hopes that cryptographers will eventually be able to help him access his digital wallet.

In addition to keeping the password to his cryptocurrency safe, Thomas told The Times he also did it to protect his mental health.

“I got to a point where I said to myself: ‘Let it be in the past, just for your own mental health,’” he explained.

On Twitter, where his story has circulated, people are expressing their horror over Thomas’s plight.

“Yo this is incredible,” New York Times political reporter Astead Wesley said in reference to the story in a tweet that has since been liked more than 6,000 times.

Others have expressed the anxiety they felt after reading about Thomas’s dilemma. “My God. That’s stressing me out and I don’t even have a stake in this,” one person tweeted.

Another said: “It’s too early to be confronted with secondhand anxiety this extreme.”

Some readers have attempted to offer their help, with one person writing on Twitter: “Um, 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.

“I’ll make it happen for 10 per cent. Call me.”

The story has also been met with humorous suggestions, such as for Thomas to try entering “password” or “1234”.

“Has he clicked the link then entered the name of his first pet?” someone else joked.

Thomas is not alone in his situation, as The New York Times notes that there are numerous other individuals who have lost the passwords to their digital wallets over the years, with the article citing a statistic by cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis, which suggests that “20 per cent – currently worth around $140bn” of the existing 18.5m bitcoin “appear to be in lost or otherwise stranded wallets”.

However, while Thomas is unable to access $220m of his wealth, he has “managed to hold onto enough bitcoin – and remember the passwords – to give him more riches than he knows what to do with,” according to The Times.

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