Several years ago, I spent the majority of my time freelancing while looking for regular work. Usually this paid well. Occasionally a client would take my work and skip the bill. It happened once with an architecture website. Again with a college seminar tracking site.

One customer, those, admitted he couldn't pay me in cash and offered instead to pay his debt in Bitcoin. I was fascinated with cryptocurrency, but had never owned any, so this seemed fair. I created a wallet, he transferred the crypto, and we went our separate ways.

The bill was tiny - around $100 - so I didn't keep track of anything at the time and long ago lost track of that wallet. It was more a novelty than anything else. Until recently when I discovered Bitcoin was now valued over $10k each.

That would've put that long-forgotten wallet at well over a million dollars in today's value. I've spent weeks trying to track it down - scouring every hard disk, USB drive, and dusty old machine I can find.

It's not there.

Plan B

In a fit of frustration when I realized this wallet was nowhere to be found, I started dipping my toe into the world of mining. I have a handful of computers, some with relatively high-end GPUs; surely I could put them to work in my off hours earning a bit of revenue here and there.

My first experiment ran my desktop for a full day, the GPU maxed out at 85 degrees Celsius[ref]That's 185 degrees Fahrenheit for those of us not used to Celsius measurements.[/ref]. In all I earned about fifteen cents.

I'm sure I spent far more in terms of power and wear on my machine that I earned. I had also mined as part of a pool that held a $75 minimum payout. It would be ages before I'd ever see a cent from mining.

Surely there must be a better way.

Plan C

If you can't find the coin, mine it. If you can't mine the coin, buy it.

I found a handful of broker websites where folks had similar stories to mine. They'd created a wallet once, invested what was a relatively small amount at the time, then forgot about Bitcoin entirely.

Fast forward to 2020 and their initial investment has ballooned by several orders of magnitude. Except their wallet is protected by a decade-old password they can't remember. Their options:

  1. Forget the whole thing
  2. Spend additional time and money maybe cracking their old password
  3. Convincing a random stranger to buy their old wallet and spend their own time and money maybe cracking their old password

There are a handful of marketplaces catering to the third option. You post your old wallet for sale and upload it to a Bitcoin-powered escrow site. A random stranger (read: me) comes by, pays for the wallet, and you get at least some recompense for your forgotten coin. Then the same stranger can spin up Hashcat or similar and try to crack the password on the wallet.

At worst, they've spent a couple hundred dollars on the wallet and even more on infrastructure as a hobby. At best, they make their way in and win the crypto lottery.

I'm hoping for the latter to occur and spending some time documenting my very own journey as the "random stranger" who bought a crypto wallet online in the hopes of striking gold.

In the next piece in this series I'll talk more about the crypto wallet itself, how it's protected, and how I hope to start with password cracking.