A recently published report claims that last year the amount of cryptocurrency lost to thefts and scams surpassed the $1.7 billion mark, a number 3.6 times higher than in 2017, and seven times higher than in 2016.
According to CipherTrace Cryptocurrency Intelligence’s report, roughly $1 billion were taken from cryptocurrency exchanges. The figure is so high as in early 2018 Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck lost over $500 million worth of NEM to hackers.
Dave Jevans, the CEO of CipherTrace, was quoted as saying:
These numbers only represent the loot from crypto crimes that CipherTrace can validate; we have little doubt that the true number of crypto asset losses is much larger.
The report notes that while in 2018 bitcoin’s price plummeted, the number of related crimes increased. This, as during 2017’s bull run, in which bitcoin surged from about $1,000 to a near $20,000 all-time high, hackers entered the market along with new buyers.
Per Jevans, this led to a “residual effect” that saw hackers become increasingly successful as they kept figuring out how to scam people, even during the crypto market’s decline. To get to its results, CipherTrace reportedly went through blockchain data, and analyzed darknet markets and forums. It also monitored chat rooms that targeted startups that raised massive amounts through initial coin offerings (ICOs).
Jevans added that crime is seemingly becoming more organized in the cryptocurrency space. He stated:
These aren’t street thugs — these are people who have masters degrees in computer science. We’re starting to see more organization in the space with professional gangs bankrolling computer scientists.
While in early 2018 cryptocurrency exchange hacks represented most of the hackers’ earnings, a rise in “inside jobs” and fraud in Q4 of 2018 saw things change. SIM-swapping, a practice in which hackers take over a victim’s mobile device to steal their funds, was the top threat last year. Recently, a task force nabbed a SIM-swapping cryptocurrency thief, who allegedly stole $14 million.
Exit scams, where ICO projects abandon their plans after raising funds, reportedly accounted for nearly $750 million worth of losses. A recent report published by blockchain research firm Chainalysis echoed CipherTrace’s findings, and showed that 60% of exchange hacks in the crypto space were the work of two major players.
Cryptocurrency exchanges were hacked out of ~$1B in 2018 by professional groups whose distinct “signatures” might be the key to defending against them. Read more in our latest blog #cryptocurrency #cryptocrime https://t.co/tD84oqxQQ1 pic.twitter.com/tCnCPbKqxz
— Chainalysis (@chainalysis) January 28, 2019
In order to get away with these thefts, which on average netted them $90 million each, the groups reportedly moved the funds through a complex network of cryptocurrency wallets, and then wait for interest to die down before cashing out their ill-gotten funds.
One group, dubbed ‘Alpha’, reportedly moves the stolen funds about 15,000 times, “expertly shuffling funds around in a way that suggests they want to avoid detection,” before trying to sell them on an exchange. The other, ‘Beta’, appears to be less sophisticated, and more focused on cashing out, Chainalysis noted.
These security incidents have notably not stopped growth in the sector. As recently covered, Fidelity, which has $7.2 trillion worth of client assets under management, is reportedly launching a crypto custody business in March.