Virgil Griffith

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Virgil Griffith
Virgil Griffith, 2017
Birmingham, Alabama, United States
Other namesRomanpoet
Alma materCalifornia Institute of Technology
OccupationInternet and software researcher
Known forWikiScanner, Tor2web
TelevisionKing of the Nerds

Virgil Griffith (born 1983), also known as Romanpoet,[1] is an American programmer, known for being the creator of WikiScanner, an indexing tool for Wikipedia. He has published papers on artificial life[2] and integrated information theory.[3] He also worked extensively on the Ethereum cryptocurrency platform. Griffith was arrested in 2019 and in 2021 pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate U.S. law relating to money laundering using cryptocurrency and sanctions related to North Korea.[4]


Griffith was born in Birmingham, Alabama and grew up in nearby Tuscaloosa.[1] He graduated from the Alabama School of Math and Science in 2002,[5] and then attended the University of Alabama, studying cognitive science. He transferred to Indiana University in 2004, but returned to graduate cum laude from Alabama in August 2007.[6] In 2008, he was a visiting researcher at the Santa Fe Institute.[7][8] In 2014 Griffith received his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology under Christof Koch[9] in computation and neural systems.[10] He has been a research scientist at the Ethereum Foundation since 2016.[11] At the time of his arrest in 2019, Griffith was a resident of Singapore and was allegedly investigating the possibility of renouncing his US citizenship.[12][13]

Computer career[edit]

Griffith has given talks at the hacker conferences Interz0ne, PhreakNIC, and HOPE.

At Interz0ne 1 in 2002, he met Billy Hoffman, a Georgia Tech student, who had discovered a security flaw in the campus magnetic ID card system called "BuzzCard". He and Hoffman collaborated to study the flaw and attempted to give a talk about it at Interz0ne 2 in April 2003. A few hours before the presentation, he and Hoffman were served with a cease and desist order from corporate lawyers acting for Blackboard Inc..[14][15] Two days later, it was followed by a lawsuit alleging that they had stolen trade secrets and violated both the Digital Millennium Copyright Act[16][17] and the Economic Espionage Act.[18] The lawsuit was settled later that year.[19]

On August 14, 2007, Griffith released a software utility, WikiScanner, that tracked Wikipedia article edits from unregistered accounts back to their originating IP addresses and identified the corporations or organizations to which they belonged.[20] Griffith described his mission in developing WikiScanner as "to create minor public-relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike."[1]

In 2008, together with Aaron Swartz, Griffith designed the Tor2web proxy.[21][22] In 2016, he was fired from the Tor team for attempting to sell de-anonymized Tor2web traffic.[citation needed][23][24]

On Ethereum, Griffith writes Ethereum "is an unprecedented arena for playing cooperative games", and "enables powerful economic vehicles we don’t yet understand", by bringing cooperative game theory into new domains.[25] As of 2019 Griffith's homepage stated that he worked for the Ethereum Foundation.


On November 28, 2019, Griffith was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for providing "highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions."[26] The charges stem from his unsanctioned participation in an April 2019 blockchain and cryptocurrency conference held in Pyongyang, North Korea. During and after the conference, Griffith was alleged to have discussed means through which North Korea could use cryptocurrency to evade economic sanctions.[27][28] Upon his arrest, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin, initiated an online campaign for his release which could not garner a good number of supporters.[29]

On September 28, 2021, Griffith pleaded guilty at a hearing in which he expressed remorse. Sentencing with a likely jail term in the range 63–78 months is expected in January 2022.[30]


  • Virgil Griffith, Markus Jakobsson, 2005. Messin' with Texas: Deriving Mother's Maiden Names Using Public Records. ISBN 3-540-26223-7.
  • Virgil Griffith, Larry S. Yaeger, 2005, MIT Press. Ideal Free Distribution in Agents with Evolved Neural Architectures. Indiana University School of Informatics and Department of Cognitive Science.
  • Griffith is listed as one of the contributors (as "Virgil G") in Elonka Dunin (2006). The Mammoth Book of Secret Codes And Cryptograms. Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-7867-1726-2.[31]
  • Two articles in Markus Jakobsson, Steven Myers (2007) Phishing and Counter-Measures: Understanding the Increasing Problem of Electronic Identity Theft. Wiley-Interscience. ISBN 0-471-78245-9.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Heffernan, Virginia (November 23, 2008). "The Medium - Virgil Griffith, Internet Man of Mystery". The New York Times.
  2. ^ John Borland (August 14, 2007). "See Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign". Wired. Retrieved 2007-08-14.
  3. ^ Griffith, Virgil. "Virgil Griffith's articles on arXiv" (List of papers in a search result.). arXiv. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Library. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  4. ^ Fanelli, Virginia (27 September 2021). "Crypto Guru Pleads Guilty to Advising North Korea on Blockchain Technology". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  5. ^ "Alumnus Virgil Griffith Creates and Releases Wikipedia Scanner". September 3, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-09-03.
  6. ^ See David Virgil Griffith in "Commencement" (PDF). The University of Alabama. 2007. Retrieved 29 August 2007.
  7. ^ Heffernan, James (2008-11-21). "Virgil Griffith, Internet Man of Mystery". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-12.
  8. ^ "SF I Profile: Virgil Griffith". Santa Fe Institute. March 27, 2008. Archived from the original on November 20, 2009.
  9. ^ "Scanner Tracks Who's Changing What on Wikipedia". NPR. August 16, 2007.
  10. ^ "CNS Graduate Students". California Institute of Technology Computation and Neural Systems. Archived from the original on 2013-12-11. Retrieved 2013-12-06.
  11. ^ Lee, Timothy B. (2019-12-02). "Developer faces prison time for giving blockchain talk in North Korea". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2019-12-12.
  12. ^ Ransom, Jan (2019-12-02). "He Gave a Cryptocurrency Talk in North Korea. The U.S. Arrested Him". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-12.
  13. ^ "Prosecutors: Noted American coder taught North Korea how to evade sanctions with cryptocurrency". USA Today. November 29, 2019.
  14. ^ Foster, Andrea L. (16 April 2003). "At Blackboard's Request, Judge Prevents Students From Discussing Security of Debit-Card System". Wayback Machine. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Archived from the original on April 7, 2007.
  15. ^ "Temporary Restraining Order against Hoffman and Griffith" (PDF). April 14, 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 20, 2003.
  16. ^ "Unintended Consequences: Seven Years under the DMCA". Electronic Frontier Foundation. April 2006. Archived from the original on February 15, 2006.
  17. ^ "The copyright cops strike again". Salon. 15 April 2003. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  18. ^ Anitha Reddy (17 April 2003). "Blackboard Gets Gag Order Against Smart-Card Hackers". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 26 May 2012.
  19. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (2008-11-21). "Internet Man of Mystery". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2021-01-29. Retrieved 2021-07-31.
  20. ^ Jonathan Fildes (15 August 2007). "Wikipedia 'shows CIA page edits'". BBC News.
  21. ^ Zetter, Kim (12 December 2008). "New Service Makes Tor Anonymized Content Available to All". Wired. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  22. ^ "tor2web brings anonymous Tor sites to the "regular" web". 15 December 2008. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Ethereum is game-changing technology, literally". May 2019. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  26. ^ "Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Arrest Of United States Citizen For Assisting North Korea In Evading Sanctions". 29 November 2019.
  27. ^ Zheng, Steve (November 28, 2019). "U.S. authorities arrest Ethereum research scientist Virgil Griffith for allegedly assisting North Korea in evading sanctions". Yahoo Finance. Retrieved November 29, 2019.
  28. ^ Jan, Ransom (2 December 2019). "He Gave a Cryptocurrency Talk in North Korea. The U.S. Arrested Him". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  29. ^ "Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith pleads guilty for aiding Kim Jong-un's Korea". September 30, 2021. Retrieved October 1, 2021.
  30. ^ "US cryptocurrency expert Virgil Griffith pleads guilty to helping North Korea avoid sanctions". South China Morning Post. 28 September 2021. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  31. ^ "Mammoth Book of Secret Code Puzzles: Acknowledgements". Retrieved 2007-08-14.

External links[edit]