Since its inception in 2009, the cryptocurrency sector has experienced its fair share of hacks, heists, and thefts. Hackers find it simpler to steal virtual currency than real money because most financial transactions happen virtually. Furthermore, large amounts of cryptocurrency can be transferred anonymously, resulting in significant heists in the crypto sector.
The cryptocurrency industry began to take off in 2020. Before that, the industry saw the participation of a very niche group of people. Also, the value of crypto assets has shot up since 2020. Comparing heists before and after 2020, one can see a stark difference in the amount of stolen currency.
Cryptocurrency heists before 2020
MT Gox exchange: MT Gox was once the largest Bitcoin (BTC) exchange. The platform handled nearly 70% of all BTC trades. The MT Gox heist remained the largest crypto heist by the number of coins stolen. Moreover, the heist took place over three years, from 2011 to 2014, with a loss of over 850k Bitcoin (BTC). The value of the BTC is about $480 million. This is the value of the Bitcoin (BTC) that was stolen on the day before the exchange declared bankruptcy.
Coincheck exchange: Cybercriminals were able to steal more than 500 million NEM tokens from the Japan-based Coincheck exchange in 2018, which were valued at nearly the equivalent in dollars. The business asserted that its security system was robust and chose not to detail the specifics of how the attackers carried out the attack. However, other professionals think that the malware may have allowed the cybercriminals to access the private keys of the Coincheck hot wallets by infecting a computer at the business’s office.
The hackers also developed a website where they offered a 15% discount on NEM tokens in exchange for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The NEM exchange rate plummeted as a result, and Coincheck suffered a loss of about $500 million.
Linode: Bitcoin exchanges and community whales used Linode, a web hosting company, to store their hot wallets. In June 2011, Linode was hacked, and the virtual services that housed the hot wallets were the targets. Sadly, this led to the theft of at least 46k BTC, however, the exact amount is yet unknown. Among the victims were Bitcoinia, which lost approximately 43k BTC, Bitcoin.cx, which lost 3k BTC, and Gavin Andresen (a Bitcoin developer), who also lost 5k BTC.
Heists after 2020
Cryptocurrency heists after 2020 took a turn for the worse, as the values of crypto assets went up. Also, more and more people began to engage with the emerging new asset class. The number of stolen coins went down, but the value of the assets increased.
Ronin Network: Sky Mavis created Ronin Network especially for the play-to-earn game Axie Infinity. An unprecedented $540 million worth of cryptocurrency was stolen from Ronin by unidentified assailants in late March 2022. The Ronin hack remains the largest value stolen in the form of crypto. Sky Mavis, however, bounced back from the situation. It rebuilt the blockchain platform in June 2022, and started paying out compensation to impacted participants.
Wormhole cross-chain bridge: Wormhole is a tool that mediates cryptocurrency transactions. It specifically enables users can transfer tokens between the Solana and Ethereum networks. The open-source project Wormhole has its own GitHub repository. The developers uploaded the code before the heist, to fix a protocol vulnerability. Yet before the modifications took effect, the attackers were able to take advantage of the weakness. On February 2, 2022, the protocol lost close to $334 million worth of wrapped Ethereum (ETH).
KuCoin exchange: Security personnel at the Singapore-based startup KuCoin saw a number of odd transactions coming from a number of hot wallets on the night of September 25–26, 2020. They moved all of the remaining assets from the compromised hot wallets to cold storage in order to stop suspicious transactions. The entire attack took place within two hours. The attackers were successful in withdrawing almost $285 million in various cryptocurrencies throughout this time.
The cryptocurrency sector has a long way to go in terms of security and regulation. The space has seen billions of dollars being siphoned off by illicit players. However, the amount of stolen coins has decreased over time. As more security measures come into effect, the space should see more safety for the stored assets.