How a Popular NFT Video Game Laid the Groundwork for a Crypto Heist

Hackers stole the equivalent of $500 million

Hacker station
Crypto heists are on the rise.
Kaur Kristjan/Unsplash

Among the advantages touted by cryptocurrency enthusiasts making the case for their preferred form of currency is something that seems relatively straightforward: it’s a lot harder to steal it. You’d think so, anyway. And yet here we are, looking at the wake of another massive crypto theft. Some enterprising thieves made off with cryptocurrency from none other than Jordan Belfort; last year, a prominent crypto heist took in the equivalent of $97 million.

The latest high-profile heist sees that amount and raises it considerably — $500 million from the crypto project Ronin, specifically. That, in turn, begs a question that comes to mind with many crypto heists (and many heists, period): how’d they do it?

A new article at The Guardian offers some details — and even by crypto heist standards, this one sounds pretty complex. The article explains that the video game Axie Infinity, which an article on Decrypt described as “a blockchain-based game in which players purchase NFTs of cute monsters and then pit them against each other in battles,” is supported by Ronin.

Axie Infinity itself has been very lucrative for some players, and the possibility of earning money there has made it even more popular. That’s where things get tricky. As The Guardian’s Carly Olson writes, “gamers must move their money from Ethereum to Ronin on a blockchain ‘bridge’ system.” It’s this bridge system that hackers — currently believed to be North Korean — targeted for the theft.

As with nearly anything involving online security, there are intelligent people working on both sides of this conflict — some looking to strengthen security, others looking for vulnerabilities wherever they can. This particular heist may be one of the highest-profile ones yet, but it almost certainly won’t be the last.

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