Top 10 Blockchain and Crypto Hacks of All Time

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Key Insights from Major Cryptocurrency Hacks

  • The article provides a comprehensive overview of the ten most significant cryptocurrency hacks in history, highlighting the security challenges in the blockchain and cryptocurrency sectors.
  • Key incidents include the Ronin Network hack, resulting in a loss of $625 million, and the Poly Network hack, involving over $610 million in stolen digital assets, among others.
  • The analysis of these breaches demonstrates the critical need for ongoing advancements in cybersecurity practices within the blockchain industry to safeguard against future threats.

Security breaches and hacks have been a recurring theme in the cryptocurrency space over the years, often resulting in significant financial losses. Here’s an in-depth look at the top 10 most significant blockchain and crypto hacks of all time.

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Ronin Network (March 2022)

The Ronin Network hack in March 2022 is a notable example of a major security breach in the world of cryptocurrencies, resulting in a significant loss of assets. This attack, attributed to the North Korean state-sponsored Lazarus group, led to the theft of approximately $625 million in Ethereum (ETH) and USD Coin (USDC). The breach involved the exploitation of the Ronin bridge, a key component of the Ethereum-linked sidechain dedicated to the popular game Axie Infinity.

The Ronin Network, developed by Sky Mavis for Axie Infinity, is designed to facilitate faster and cheaper transactions than Ethereum’s main network. It operates with nine validator nodes, with a consensus of five required for approving transactions. In this incident, the attackers compromised four Sky Mavis validator nodes and one from the Axie DAO, allowing them to authorize two large withdrawals from the Ronin bridge. This consisted of 173,600 ETH and 25.5 million USDC, making it one of the largest thefts in the history of decentralized finance (DeFi).

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Poly Network (August 2021)

The Poly Network hack in August 2021 was a remarkable event in the cryptocurrency world, involving a massive theft of over $610 million in digital assets. This attack targeted Poly Network, an interoperability protocol that enables users to exchange cryptocurrencies across different blockchains such as Ethereum, Binance Smart Chain, and Polygon. The hackers were able to transfer a significant amount of digital assets to their controlled addresses across these three blockchains.

The breach exploited a vulnerability in the Poly Network system. The attackers utilized an internal instruction known as EthCrossChainManager on the Ontology blockchain network, which allowed them to transfer ownership of various smart contracts, and consequently, the cryptocurrencies underpinning those contracts, to wallets they controlled. The stolen assets included cryptocurrencies, denominated in ETH, BSC, and MATIC coins.

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Binance Bridge (October 2022)

The attackers exploited a vulnerability in a smart contract related to the Binance Bridge. Binance Bridge is a tool that facilitates the transfer of assets between different blockchains. The exploit allowed the hackers to create 2 million BNB tokens illegitimately.

The attackers quickly used Venus, a lending protocol on the BNB Chain, using 900,000 BNB as collateral to borrow various stablecoins. These stablecoins were then routed to multiple EVM-compatible chains using different bridges and swapped between stablecoins and Ethereum using various liquidity providers and lending protocols. 

Coincheck (January 2018)

The Coincheck hack in January 2018 was one of the largest cryptocurrency heists in history, involving a loss of approximately $534 million. This attack targeted the Japanese crypto exchange Coincheck, and the stolen funds consisted entirely of NEM tokens, a cryptocurrency. In the early morning of January 26th, hackers transferred about 523 million NEM tokens from Coincheck’s hot wallet, which was less securely protected online, to external addresses. The breach went unnoticed until almost midday.

Coincheck’s vulnerability lay in its security practices at the time of the hack. The exchange stored a majority of its clients’ NEM tokens in an online hot wallet secured by a single private key, instead of using more secure cold storage or multi-signature wallets. This approach left Coincheck exposed to the risk of such a massive theft. Following the discovery of the breach, Coincheck froze all deposits and withdrawals on its platform.

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MT Gox (2011-2014)

The Mt. Gox hack, spanning from 2011 to 2014, was one of the most significant events in the early history of Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency world. As the largest Bitcoin exchange at the time, Mt. Gox handled over 70% of all Bitcoin transactions. The hack resulted in a staggering loss of approximately 744,408 bitcoins belonging to customers and an additional 100,000 bitcoins belonging to the company itself, summing up to a monumental financial impact. The hack began as early as 2011 but went undetected for several years, leading to the eventual insolvency and bankruptcy of Mt. Gox by February 2014.

Wormhole (February 2022)

The Wormhole hack in February 2022 was another major incident in the DeFi space. Wormhole, a DeFi application that connects Solana with other major blockchains, suffered a loss of over $325 million due to a vulnerability in its code. This vulnerability was attributed to experimental code, which inadvertently created a loophole that hackers exploited.

KuCoin (September 2020)

In September 2020, the cryptocurrency exchange KuCoin experienced a major hack, resulting in the theft of about $280 million. However, KuCoin’s swift response and cooperation with industry partners and law enforcement led to the successful recovery of a significant portion of the stolen funds.

PAID Network (March 2021)

PAID Network, a DeFi platform, suffered a hack in March 2021 via a vulnerability that allowed hackers to create millions of new tokens. This led to a net loss of around $180 million at the time of the attack. The incident brought to light the challenges faced in ensuring the security of DeFi platforms and the importance of rigorous testing and code audits to prevent such vulnerabilities.

Cream Finance (October 2021)

Cream Finance, a decentralized multi-chain lending protocol, was targeted in a flash loan attack in October 2021, resulting in a loss of $130 million. This complex attack involved multiple assets and highlighted the vulnerabilities in DeFi protocols, particularly those associated with flash loans, which have become a common vector for attacks in the DeFi space.

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Bitfinex (August 2016)

The Bitfinex hack of August 2016 was a significant event in cryptocurrency history. Hackers stole 119,756 Bitcoins, valued at about $72 million at the time, from the Hong Kong-based exchange Bitfinex. This attack was particularly notable because it compromised multi-signature accounts, which were considered more secure. Bitfinex had set up these accounts with BitGo, a BTC wallet provider, to add an extra layer of security to customer transactions. The aftermath of the hack caused significant disruption and confusion within the market, with BTC prices dropping sharply. Despite the scale of the attack, Bitfinex managed to continue operations and worked towards compensating its customers for the losses they had suffered​

Key Takeaways

The top cryptocurrency hacks in history serve as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities inherent in the digital asset space. These incidents have not only led to significant financial losses but also highlighted critical security gaps within the blockchain and cryptocurrency sectors.

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