News & Opinion | November 4, 2019 11:29 am

How Thieves Pulled off Iceland’s Biggest Bitcoin Heist

The world's leading Bitcoin miner is also a target for crypto-crooks

Iceland is the world's leading miner of digital currency.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

In late 2017, a group of thieves successfully broke into Advania data center in Iceland, stealing 550 Bitcoin computers.

Led by Sindri Thor Stefansson, the men behind Iceland’s Big Bitcoin Heist managed to escape with a $500,000 haul in hardware alone, Mark Seal reported in a recent Vanity Fair feature. Along with the computers, the thieves had also taken motherboards, graphics cards, and power accessories, but the stolen hardware was a minor heist compared to the virtual money the cryptocurrency machines could generate for the burglars.

“It’s the biggest burglary in the history of Iceland,” Stefansson told Seal of the heist.

Thanks to Iceland’s abundance of cheap geothermal energy, the country has become the world’s leading miner of digital currency, which means it’s also become a target for crypto theft. Stefansson’s major heist at Advania in December 2017 was the fifth crypto-burglary the country had seen in a span of two months.

Allegedly assembled by a mysterious unnamed foreign investor, Stefansson’s gang pulled off a smaller heist earlier that month, stealing 104 Bitcoin computers from the Algrim Consulting data center. Stefansson and his partner were arrested and questioned by police, then later released after denying any involvement with the theft.

The group wasn’t so lucky after the massive Advania heist. Two weeks after the burglary, Stefansson and his partners were arrested. Stefansson briefly managed to break out of prison and flee to Amsterdam, before being arrested there and extradited to Iceland to stand trial.

In December 2018, Stefansson received a four and a half year prison sentence. He is appealing the conviction, and remains free until the appeal is resolved. The unnamed foreign investor Stefansson claims was the heist’s behind-the-scenes orchestrator remains at large, as do the 550 stolen bitcoin computers.

“Maybe I know where they are,” Stefansson told Seal. “Maybe I do, and maybe I don’t.”

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