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Largest cryptocurrency heist of 2019: Upbit exchange loses $50 million to theft


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With the year drawing to a close, this may stand as 2019's largest cryptocurrency exchange heist.

South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Upbit has confirmed that it's lost 342,000 Ether, worth about US$50 million at the time, but now worth more than $52 million following today's ETH price bump.

The exchange says it will cover the lost Ether with its own funds, but services may remain disrupted for two weeks.

This is the largest cryptocurrency exchange heist of 2019, if you measure losses based on cryptocurrency prices at the time of the hack. It surpasses the $40 million at-the-time Binance theft of 7,000 BTC in May of this year.

With the year drawing to a close, it's going to take a truly spectacular effort for anyone to take the crown from Upbit.

If you want to see the pile of stolen money for yourself, the culprit wallet can be found at:


An inside job? North Korea?

People are noting that the exchange has not used the word "hack" in its official statement on the incident. The timing of the attack coincided with the routine movement of funds from the exchange's hot wallet to its cold wallet, which also suggests some insider knowledge.

Plus, another recent South Korean cryptocurrency exchange hack, in which Bithumb lost $20 million, was an inside job.

The currently circling but considerably more tenuous speculation of a North Korean connection, which is still just unfounded speculation, is based in part on North Korean phishing attempts on Upbit users earlier this year.

It's also based on the fact that another $30 million Bithumb hack (not the inside job, a different one) is believed to have been perpetrated by North Korean hackers.

The world's largest exchange attack to date, in which half a billion dollars worth of XEM was stolen from Japanese exchange CoinCheck, is also believed to have been the work of North Korea.

Incidentally, that half a billion dollars-at-the-time of XEM is collectively worth less than $20 million now. CoinCheck remains the world's largest cryptocurrency theft, but whether it was the most lucrative depends on whether the hackers managed to cash out.

It's possible that they didn't, because cashing out stolen cryptocurrency isn't always easy.

As is typical in these cases, the exchange ecosystem has quickly rallied to Upbit's support, with some platforms promising to freeze any funds that the thieves may attempt to pass through their platforms.

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Disclosure: The author holds BNB, BTC at the time of writing.

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