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Cryptocurrency exchanges trading bitcoin have been hit by a series of heists in recent months. Photograph: Getty Images

Bitcoin price plunges after cryptocurrency exchange is hacked

Security fears rise as South Korea’s Coincheck loses about £28m of virtual currency

WT24 Desk

There has been a sharp drop in the price of bitcoin and other virtual currencies after South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Coinrail was hacked over the weekend, according to The Guardian.

A tweet from Coinrail confirming the cyber-attack sent the price of bitcoin tumbling 10% on Sunday to two-month lows.

The world’s best-known cryptocurrency lost $500 (£372) in an hour, dropping to $6,627 on the Luxembourg exchange Bitstamp, while most other digital currencies also recorded large losses.

The latest attack highlights the lack of security and weak regulation of global cryptocurrency markets.

Coinrail later said in a statement on its website that its system was hit by “cyber intrusion” on Sunday, causing a loss for about 30% of the coins traded on the exchange. It did not quantify the value, but local news outlet Yonhap News estimated that about 40 billion won (£27.8m) worth of virtual coins was stolen.

Coinrail said “70% of total coin and token reserves have been confirmed to be safely stored and moved to a cold wallet [not connected to the internet]. Two-thirds of stolen cryptocurrencies were withdrawn or frozen in partnership with related exchanges and coin companies. For the rest, we are looking into it with an investigative agency, related exchanges and coin developers.”

Police have begun an investigation, according to the Korea Herald, which cited a spokesperson as saying: “We secured the access history of Coinrail servers and we are in the process of analysing them.”

Bitcoin is now trading at $6,752 – down from an all-time peak of nearly $20,000 in the week before Christmas.

South Korea is one of the world’s major cryptocurrency trading centres, and is home to one of the busiest virtual coin exchanges, Bithumb.

There have been a series of heists at cryptocurrency exchanges in recent months. Japan’s Coincheck was hacked in January, with more than $500m-worth of digital currency stolen. It started reimbursing customers in March but faces two class-action lawsuits. In December, South Korean exchange Youbit shut down and filed for bankruptcy after being hacked twice.

Naeem Aslam at online trading platform ThinkMarkets said: “The question is: is there any limit to these hacks? After every few months, we are seeing the same pattern emerging. This is the result of loose regulatory control and regulators must step in to protect the consumers. Anyone who wants to do anything with exchanges should be forced to adopt high-grade security and regular security upgrades.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that US regulators were investigating potential price manipulation at four major cryptocurrency exchanges. The investigation comes six months after CME Group launched bitcoin futures. Coinbase, Bitstamp, itBit and Kraken have been asked to share trading data related to the futures contracts.

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