By Yuji Nakamura and Andrea Tan
January 28, 2018
At 2:57 a.m. on Friday morning in Tokyo, someone hacked into the digital wallet of Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck Inc. and pulled off one of the biggest heists in history.
Three days later, the theft of nearly $500 million in digital tokens is still reverberating through virtual currency markets and policy circles around the world.
The episode, disclosed by Coincheck executives at a hastily arranged press conference on Friday night, has heightened calls for stricter oversight at a time when many governments are struggling to formulate a response to the digital-asset boom. Japanese finance ministry officials said on Monday that the country will conduct on-site inspections of exchanges and that cryptocurrencies would likely become an issue at the next G-20 meeting.
“The latest theft will have two immediate effects: more regulation by authorities over exchanges and more recognition of the advantages offered by decentralized ways of trading,” said David Moskowitz, co-founder of Indorse Pte in Singapore, which runs a social network for blockchain enthusiasts.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury described cryptocurrencies as an “evolving threat” and said it’s examining dealers to make sure they aren’t being used to finance illegal activities. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to consider a clampdown, while South Korean policy makers are debating whether to ban digital-asset exchanges outright. China outlawed the venues last year.