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Crypto hacker stole $600 million and returned half the next day — here's why

Cryptocurrency malware
(Image credit: Getty/Snappa)

The cryptocurrency world suffered a brutal blow on August 10 after a hacker stole a whopping $600 million from the Poly network, a technology built to promote interoperability between different blockchains. In other words, Poly's mission is to facilitate cross-chain communication between multiple networks such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Perhaps the hacker started to feel a little guilty about the massive cryptocurrency heist because, on Wednesday, the malicious actor returned nearly half of the drained funds.

Poly network hacker returns about $300 million in stolen crypto

Poly's security is now being called into question after a hacker stole $600 million from the network. The cryptocurrencies stolen in the exploit include Shiba Inu, USDC, wrapped Ether and wrapped Bitcoin. According to CoinDesk, this is one of the largest crypto hacks in history.

On Tuesday, the Poly team tweeted an open letter to the hacker, beseeching the cybercriminal to return the funds.

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The Poly team also listed three wallet addresses to which the hacker could return the stolen assets.

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According to CNBC, by 11 a.m. EST on Wednesday, about $260 million of the stolen digital assets were sent back.

Cybersecurity researcher Slow Mist announced that it has tracked down the digital footprint of the guileful hacker, including their email, IP address and device data. "This is likely [...] a long-planned, organized and prepared attack," Slow Mist said.

Contrary to popular belief, most cryptocurrency networks are transparent and traceable. For example, the Bitcoin blockchain records every transaction on a fixed, immutable, public ledger that anyone can access, leaving digital breadcrumbs of everyone who's interacted with the BTC network. Similarly, the Poly network is far from opaque.

"Even if you can steal cryptoassets, laundering them and cashing out is extremely difficult due to the transparency of the blockchain and the use of blockchain analytics,” Tom Robinson, chief scientist of blockchain analytics firm Elliptic, told CNBC. 

In the case of the Poly network heist, the hacker's identity is now compromised. "The hacker concluded that the safest option was just to return the stolen assets," Robinson said.

Kimberly Gedeon, holding a Master's degree in International Journalism, launched her career as a journalist for MadameNoire's business beat in 2013. She loved translating stuffy stories about the economy, personal finance and investing into digestible, easy-to-understand, entertaining stories for young women of color. During her time on the business beat, she discovered her passion for tech as she dove into articles about tech entrepreneurship, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the latest tablets. After eight years of freelancing, dabbling in a myriad of beats, she's finally found a home at Laptop Mag that accepts her as the crypto-addicted, virtual reality-loving, investing-focused, tech-fascinated nerd she is. Woot!