Blockchain Data Links Tether 'Attack' to 2015 Exchange Hack

The individual or group behind the alleged Tether attack may have been involved in a previous well-known hack in the bitcoin space.

Nov 21, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 7:11 a.m. UTC

Those behind the alleged theft of $31 million worth of Tether's US dollar-backed tokens were also involved in a high-profile hack two years ago, a cybersleuth has concluded from available blockchain data.

The company behind the dollar-backed cryptocurrency tether claimed Monday night that it had been robbed, sparking a new wave of speculation around the token, its backers and its alleged role in recent bitcoin market movements.

And, as might be expected, the availability of public blockchain data for the transactions involved led a number of observers online to trace them back in an attempt to find answers.

In posts on the r/bitcoin and r/cryptocurrency subreddits, a user going by the handle SpeedflyChris has linked the alleged Tether attack to the $5 million hack of Bitstamp in 2015. As reported at the time, employees at that Luxembourg-based bitcoin exchange fell victim to a weeks-long phishing attempt, ultimately leading to the loss of some 18,000 bitcoins.

At the heart of SpeedflyChris' analysis is this wallet, for which transactions from Bitstamp can be seen dating back to January 2015.

As SpeedflyChris notes, the address in question was used to send bitcoins to another address that later received tokens from Tether's "treasury" wallet, in a series of 21 transactions over the course of Nov. 19. Included in the alleged theft of the roughly $31 million in tethers was 5 BTC, which ended up in three separate wallets as Tether uses Omni, a bitcoin-based software protocol to effectively "tag" coins to serve different purposes.

Separately, SpeedlyChris' analysis indicates that the primary address in question is also connected to thefts that occurred at the China-based bitcoin exchange Huobi in 2015, as well as a number of transactions to peer-to-peer bitcoin exchange LocalBitcoins.

What now?

Despite the pseudonymous nature of public blockchains like bitcoin, the data offers a level of transparency into the movements of the funds involved.

Yet the absence of identifying information beyond wallet addresses means that online sleuthing has its limitations.

On the other hand, in the event of a law enforcement investigation, such data could ultimately come into play.

Magnifying glass image via Shutterstock

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