In the fall of 2021, cryptocurrency value skyrocketed. Ethereum and Bitcoin had their highest values ever, causing a huge stir in interest in online currencies from experts, hobbyists and newbies alike … and in cybercriminals seeking huge paydays. Since then, cryptocurrency value has cooled, as has the public’s opinion about whether it’s worth the risk. Huge cryptohacking events dominate the headlines, leaving us to wonder: Is cryptocurrency losing its credibility?
In this article, you’ll learn about recent unfortunate crypto hacks and a few cryptocurrency security tips to help you avoid a similar misfortune.
Secure Your Crypto Wallet
A crypto wallet is the software or the physical device that stores the public and private keys to your cryptocurrency. A public key is the string of letters and numbers that people swap with each other in crypto transactions. It’s ok to share a public key with someone you trust. Your private key, however, must remain private — think of it like the password that secures your online bank account. Just like your actual wallet, if it falls into the wrong hands, you can lose a lot of money.
What happened in the Mars Stealer malware attack on crypto wallets?
A malware called Mars Stealer infiltrated several crypto wallet browser extensions, including the popular MetaMask. The malware stole private keys and then erased its tracks to mask that it had ever gained entry to the wallet.1
How can you ensure a secure wallet?
One way to completely avoid a breach to your software crypto wallet is to opt for a hardware wallet. A hardware wallet is a physical device that can only be opened with a PIN. But there is some risk involved with a hardware wallet: if you drop it down the drain, all your crypto is gone. If you forget your wallet PIN, there is no customer service chatbot that can help you remember it. You are solely responsible for keeping track of it. For those who are confident in their hardware’s hiding spot and their personal organizational skills, they can benefit from its added security.
For anyone less sure of their ability to keep track of a hardware wallet, a software wallet is a fine alternative, though always been on alert of software wallet hacks. Keep an eye on crypto news and be ready to secure your software at a moment’s notice. Measures include un-downloading browser extensions, changing passwords, or transferring your crypto assets to another software wallet.
In the case of the Mars Stealer malware that affected MetaMask, being careful about visiting secure sites and only clicking on trustworthy links could’ve helped prevent it. Mars Stealer made its way onto people’s devices after they clicked on an infected link or visited a risky website. Stick to websites you know you can trust and consider springing for well-known streaming services and paying for software instead of torrenting from free sources.
Only Trust Secure Bridges and Be Prepared to Act Quickly
Cryptocurrency enthusiasts often spread their crypto investments across various currency types and blockchain environments. Software known as a bridge can link numerous accounts and types, making it easier to send currency.
What happened in the Horizon bridge hack?
The cross-chain bridge Horizon experienced was on its Harmony blockchain, where a hacker stole about $100 million in Ethereum and tokens. The hacker stole two private keys, with which they could then validate this huge transaction into their own wallet. To hopefully prevent this from happening in the future, Horizon now requires more than just two validators.2
How can you avoid crumbling bridges?
According to one report, in 2022, 69% of all cryptocurrency losses have occurred in bridge attacks.3 If you exchange cryptocurrencies with other users and have various accounts, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll use bridge software. To keep your assets safe, make sure to extensively research any bridge before trusting it. Take a look at their security protocols and how they’ve responded to past breaches, if applicable.
In the case of Horizon, the stolen private keys were encrypted with a passphrase and with a key management service, which follows best practices. Make sure that you always defend your private keys and all your cryptocurrency-related accounts with multi-factor authentication. Even though it may not 100% protect your assets, it’ll foil a less persistent cybercriminal.
Phishing attacks on bridge companies in conjunction with software hacks are also common. In this scenario, there’s unfortunately not much you can control. What you can control is how quickly and completely you respond to the cybercrime event. Remove the bridge software from your devices, transfer all your assets to a hardware wallet, and await further instructions from the bridge company on how to proceed.
Never Trade Security for Convenience
Decentralized finance, or DeFi, is now one of the riskiest aspects of cryptocurrency. DeFi is a system without governing bodies. Some crypto traders like the anonymity and autonomy of being able to make transactions without a bank or institution tracking their assets. The drawback is that the code used in smart contracts isn’t bulletproof and has been at the center of several costly cybercrimes. Smart contracts are agreed upon by crypto buyers and sellers, and they contain code that programs crypto to perform certain financial transactions.
What happened in recent smart contract hacks?
Three multi-million-dollar heists – Wormhole, Beanstalk Farms and Ronin bridge – occurred in quick succession, and smart contracts were at the center of each.4 In the case of Wormhole, a cybercriminal minted 120,000 in one currency and then traded them for Ethereum without putting up the necessary collateral. In the end, the hacker cashed out with $320 million. Beanstalk Farms lost $182 million when a hacker discovered a loophole in the stablecoin’s flash loan smart contract. Axie Infinity’s Ronin bridge was hit for $625 million when a hacker took control over and signed five of the nine validator nodes through a smart contract hole.4
How can you avoid smart contract failures
To be safe, conduct all crypto transactions on well-known and trustworthy software, applications, bridges, and wallets that are backed by a governing body. What you lose in anonymity you gain in security by way of regulated protocols. Hackers are targeting smart contracts because they do not have to depend on large-scale phishing schemes to get the information they need. Instead, they can infiltrate the code themselves and steal assets from the smartest and most careful crypto users. Because there’s almost no way you can predict the next smart contract hack, the best path forward is to always remain on your toes and be ready to react should one occur.
Enjoy Cryptocurrency but Keep Your Eyes Peeled
Don’t let these costly hacks be what stops you from exploring crypto! Crypto is great as a side hustle if you’re committed to security and are strategic in your investments. Make sure you follow the best practices outlined and arm all your devices (mobile included!) with top-notch security, such as antivirus software, a VPN, and a password manager, all of which are included in McAfee +.
Privacy, excellent security habits, and an eagle eye can help you enjoy the most out of cryptocurrency and sidestep its costly pitfalls. Now, go forth confidently and prosper in the crypto realm!
2Halborn, “Explained: The Harmony Horizon Bridge Hack”
5Cointelegraph, “Beanstalk Farms loses $182M in DeFi governance exploit”