A long-dormant Bitcoin wallet was emptied of more than 69,000 BTC on election day, leading to claims that hackers had just got away with a heist worth nearly $1 billion. So whodunit?
At the same time that media attention was squarely focused on the 2020 presidential election, someone pulled off what appeared to be the perfect robbery: hacking a cryptocurrency wallet containing almost $1 billion (£760 million) in Bitcoin. The wallet in question, 1HQ3Go3ggs8pFnXuHVHRytPCq5fGG8Hbhx to be formal about it, had sat dormant for years following the FBI shutdown of criminal marketplace Silk Road. Ross Ulbricht, also known as Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder of Silk Road, was arrested in 2013 and convicted of money laundering and hacking in 2015.
Ulbricht was handed down a double life sentence.
That Bitcoin wallet has been of great interest to hacking groups ever since, which is hardly surprising given that it would be one of the world's most profitable cyber-heists if anyone managed to brute-force the passcode. This has proven to be no easy task, hence the money staying put for all these years.
Until now, that is. Until election day 2020, when someone managed to empty the wallet and transfer more than 69,000 BTC to another wallet.
So, who got their hands on the money? Speculation has been rife since Tuesday, pretty much equally split between those who thought the original hacking group owners had decided to move it before anyone else broke the code and stole it, and the latter actually having happened before they could. The truth, however, would appear to be that it was neither.
According to a November 5 news release from U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, David Anderson, it was the Feds that grabbed the money. Addressing the issue of where the criminal proceeds from the Silk Road enterprise had gone, Anderson said: "$1 billion of these criminal proceeds are now in the United States' possession."
It appears that the Internal Revenue Service criminal investigation office managed to track the funds from Silk Road, following the trail of 54 previously unidentified Bitcoin transactions concerning monies stolen from Silk Road between 2012 and 2013.
This means we now know this wasn't the heist of the century, that hackers had not brute-forced the wallet passcode. What we don't know is where the money will end up. While the money has been seized, it has not yet been proven that these funds should be forfeited and become federal government property. I suspect, given what is known so far and the nature of the detailed investigations to date, that it's only a matter of time before the courts confirm that forfeiture.