It's not just cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin that are mostly digital these days, but it can still make for a reality check when some huge quantity gets stolen by a hacker by nebulous means. Such was the case last week, when according to CNN one or more hackers busted into the bitcoin mining system of digital currency mining firm NiceHash. As NiceHash CEO Marko Kobal put it in a public statement delivered via video:
"Yesterday morning at about 1 a.m. a hacker or a group of hackers was able to infiltrate our systems through a compromised company computer … Given the complexity and security of the systems in place, this appears as an incredibly coordinated and highly sophisticated attack."
The hack came as Bitcoin has skyrocketed in value over the last several weeks, surpassing $17,000 per bitcoin for the first time. That meant the value of the hacked bitcoins came to about $70 million – or, to put it in Bitcoin terms, the hackers stole around 4,700 bitcoins from NiceHash's servers.
It looks like the unnamed hackers were able to break into the NiceHash server using a deceptively simple means: The login credentials of a NiceHash engineer. Over the course of his video statement, Kobal didn't specify whether the hackers could have accessed funds or personal information from any user accounts, but an earlier statement from NiceHash that immediately followed the crime sheds a little (and I do mean a little) more light on what happened:
"While the full scope of what happened is not yet known, we recommend, as a precaution, that you change your online passwords … In addition to undertaking our own investigation, the incident has been reported to the relevant authorities and law enforcement and we are cooperating with them as a matter of urgency."
Even though the recent NiceHash hack is among the largest such crimes ever in terms of cash value, 4,700 bitcoins isn't much compared to other recent bitcoin heists: In 2015, European cryptocurrency exchange Bitstamp was taken for roughly 19,000 bitcoins, while last year hackers took almost 120,000 bitcoins from Hong Kong exchange Bitfinex – and to give you an idea of how much growth Bitcoin has seen since then, that haul was worth about $65 million at the time, less than the value of the more recently stolen 4,700 bitcoins by a significant margin.