The Bitfinex heist is the latest is a growing line of high profile heists that are undermining confidence in the crypto currency
The price of the virtual currency Bitcoin fell sharply Tuesday after Hong Kong-based digital-currency exchange Bitfinex said it was hacked, resulting in the possible theft of $65 million worth of bitcoin.
News of the Bitfinex hack hit the price of bitcoin hard in heavy trading. It fell to $540 by late in the day, down about 12% from its level near $613 early Tuesday, according to CoinDesk. At one point, it traded as low as $480, down about 22%.
The hack marks one of the largest thefts in bitcoin’s short history and follows a separate theft of an estimated $60 million worth of rival virtual currency Ethereum in June which resulted in the Blockchain being hard forked to recover the money. In 2014, investor confidence in bitcoin also was dented with another larger cybersecurity breach, at Japanese exchange Mt. Gox.
Hacking and thefts of investor property stand as two of the biggest issues that may prevent the fast-growing digital currency from gaining more widespread use. Bitcoin trades on an open ledger known as the blockchain that has excited technologists for its ability to cut out expensive layers of bureaucracy in an array of commerce.
But securing the bitcoin trading platform has proved elusive. Bitfinex Tuesday acknowledged the latest theft in a statement on its website and said it was halting all trading on Bitfinex as well as the deposits and withdrawals of digital tokens.
“The theft is being reported to—and we are co-operating with—law enforcement,” the statement said. “We are deeply concerned about this issue and we are committing every resource to try to resolve it.”
Zane Tackett, Bitfinex director of community and product development, confirmed that 119,756 bitcoins were stolen and said the company knows “exactly how relevant systems were compromised.” At Tuesday’s value, the amount of bitcoin stolen was worth about $65 million. Mr. Tackett said the company is working with law enforcement and analytics companies to try to track down the stolen coins and is working to get its platform back up so customers can check their accounts.
It wasn’t clear what percentage of Bitfinex’s overall assets were stolen or whether or not the company had adequate insurance to cover the theft.
“We are investigating the breach to determine what happened, but we know that some of our users have had their bitcoins stolen,” the statement added. “We are undertaking a review to determine which users have been affected by the breach. While we conduct this initial investigation and secure our environment, bitfinex.com will be taken down and the maintenance page will be left up.”
In 2014, the Tokyo-based exchange Mt. Gox collapsed after a yearslong series of attacks resulted in the theft of about 850,000 bitcoins, at the time worth about $450 million. About 200,000 were later recovered. In June, Mt. Gox Chief Executive Mark Karpales was released from a Japanese prison on bail, after serving 10 months. The company’s liquidation is ongoing.
Bitcoin rallied earlier this year but had been selling off lately since an anticipated event known as the “halving” lowered the subsidy paid to Bitcoin miners supporting the network.
Bitfinex, founded in 2013, is the fifth-biggest bitcoin exchange and the largest outside of mainland China, according to bitcoinity.org.
In 2015, Bitfinex switched to a system protected by what is known as “multiple signature” security, a feature that requires multiple “keys” to access bitcoin in a virtual wallet, and keeps the customers’ money in separate accounts, rather than pooling them into one larger account.
The exchange was fined $75,000 by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission in June for offering illegal off-exchange commodity transactions financed in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and for failing to register as a futures commission merchant. The CFTC said at the time that Bitfinex cooperated with its investigation and voluntarily made changes to its business practices to comply with regulations.
“The CFTC has engaged in a productive, open, and timely dialogue with us, and, as a result, we believe we have a better understanding of the regulatory framework governing financed trading on our platform.” Bitfinex said at the time.