At a time when interest in crypto has never been higher, it’s worth watching out.
Ballooning bitcoin returns, and the opportunity to make it rich and strike it lucky means cryptocurrencies have rarely been more popular. We’re being swept up in a tide of interest in them as their value spikes, reaching unparalleled highs. But it’s worth being cautious, because they feature frequently in lists of the biggest financial hacks of the last decade.
Research compiled by Traders of Crypto, a cryptocurrency website, shows that nearly $2.7 billion has been stolen by hackers in the last 10 years – and worryingly, eight in 10 of the hacks launched by cybercriminals have been successful.
Four of the top five hacks in recent history have targeted cryptocurrencies – and all four were successful, netting those involved $1.43 billion in loot. But what are these hacks, who launched them – and how much did they earn their perpetrators?
1. Coincheck Crypto Heist
In 2018, Coincheck, a Japanese-based clearing house, was targeted by hackers affiliated with North Korea. The attack, which took place in January, was for big bucks: $534 million was targeted and managed to be stolen away in the incursion.
It quickly became the highest profile and most valuable hack in history, beating out what until then had been the biggest…
2. Mt Gox Heist
Mt Gox was one of the most recognisable names in the early days of cryptocurrency. When it was targeted, an estimated $450 million in bitcoin disappeared. The attack resulted in chaos for the people running Mt Gox, who declared bankruptcy three years later after losing around one in 20 of all bitcoins in circulation at the time.
Around 200,000 bitcoins were recovered from the attack after an investigation, but the majority remain unaccounted for – as are the perpetrators.
3. Malaysian Central Bank Heist
The rare high-profile hack attack that didn’t come off, this attack launched by North Korea-linked hackers tried to steal $390 million of money from the Malaysian central bank. The method attempted in March 2018 was fraudulent wire transfers using the SWIFT system.
“All unauthorised transactions were stopped through prompt action in strong collaboration with SWIFT, other central banks and financial institutions.”the central bank said in a statement.
4. KuCoin Hack
$280 million was the reward for the unknown hackers who targeted KuCoin in September 2020, the most recent big-money bounty for cybercriminals on this list.
Based in the Seychelles, the crypto exchange claims that around 84% of the affected assets were recovered safely. But the surprise of vast amounts of money disappearing without a trace has put the spook into the market, reminding people that crypto can be insecure.
5. Union Bank of India
Yet another victim of North Korean-linked hackers, the Union Bank of India lost a reported $170 million in July 2016 – though it was recovered after investigators were able to reverse the charges, which were made through another attempt on the SWIFT system.
The money was routed through New York banks, Australian and Taiwanese financial institutions, and two Cambodian banks, and the way in for the hackers was discovered – it was a malicious attachment to an email.
It’s no longer cops vs robbers
Of the five next biggest hacks, two more were made by hackers tied to North Korea, while two more were launched by unknown perpetrators. The other successful attack was launched by the infamous GozNym Gang, who targeted 41,000 different victims across the world using a banking Trojan, before they were arrested in May 2019 and sentenced in December 2019 – but not before they had managed to steal a staggering $100 million from their victims.
In all, the perpetrators of attacks weren’t known in nearly two-thirds of the cases identified by Traders of Crypto, while those allied or tied to North Korea accounted for a further three in 10 attacks.
What the data shows is a simple message: get rid of the old-fashioned idea of armed robbers wearing masks raiding physical bank vaults. As the world moves increasingly online, we need to be more conscious than ever of our cybersecurity.
“When most people imagine millions being stolen from a bank, they picture robbers stealing from a vault and fleeing with gold bars and bundles of cash,” Traders of Crypto say. “But in the increasingly digital world we live in, the biggest heists are taking place online.”