A mystery code which was stashed in a painting giving access to an online wallet containing Bitcoin worth almost £35,500 was cracked after three years. The bitcoins were removed from the wallet last week.
The artwork, by Rob Myers and a person using the pseudonym @coin_artist, was first published online in early 2015 and the code inside revealed a private key giving the discoverer access to the wallet full of bitcoins.
The painting was done by @coin_artist, but she worked closely with Myers to encode the key into the artwork, according to Motherboard. To retrieve the private key to the puzzle players had to combine and extract two pieces of data from the painting.
These were the data hidden in the flames on the edges, and the data around the key in the bottom right corner.
A 30-year-old programmer, who lived in a country where it was not safe to own Bitcoin and wanted to keep their name secret, had claimed the funds.
The programmer had not even heard of the puzzle until over a month ago. He said he had originally found the puzzle because he and his wife enjoyed solving riddles and he was deliberately looking for puzzles related to cryptocurrencies.
The programmer’s process of solving the puzzle was corroborated by @coin_artist. He shared screenshots of his conversations with the other puzzle players. To prove that he was in fact in control of the coins, he also signed a message to the wallet address. While doing this, he used the phrase placed before the start of the Bitcoin wallet private key coded into the painting.
Why did it take so long to solve?
It wasn't surprising that it had taken so long for someone to solve the painting's code, the BBC reported Peter Todd, a cryptography consultant as saying.
"Puzzles like that one aren't things you can just throw computing power at - they're genuine brain puzzles," he said.
In January a Belgian PhD student worked out a key to a single bitcoin, at the time worth more than $10,000, after cracking a puzzle set by their original owner. The student decoded a strand of synthetic DNA.
Late in 2017, two hackers claimed $1,000 in Bitcoin after reconstructing a blurred-out QR code briefly appearing on French television.
Symbols from Alice in Wonderland
The $50,000-worth puzzle encoded a series of zeroes and ones in rows of flames painted around the edge of the canvas. The colour and shape of each flame made up a four-character piece of the binary series.
A further part of the code was represented by six ribbons in the bottom right-hand corner. The puzzle-solver translated the zeroes and ones into a Bitcoin private key with the help of a simple computer program, after all of these codes had been worked out and linked together.
The first approach of the programmer was to search for symbols from Alice in Wonderland because some aspects of the puzzle reminded him of Lewis Carroll's famous story, Motherboard reported. So, he printed out the drawing and looked for symbols by placing the painting against a mirror.