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Analysis-Decentralized finance: Most recent front in crypto’s hacking crisis

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  • Hackers often exploit bugs in an open-source code
  • The lack of regulations makes little or no recourse for victims
  • Experts of DeFi feel that security risks are more probable at newer sites 

Cryptocurrencies are touted to be harbingers of security, and in the 13 years of their existence, exchanges have been at the forefront of cyber heists. Today a bigger hacking risk is increasing in a sector, and it is peer-to-peer crypto platforms.

In recent times one such site Poly Network endured a crypto heist worth $610 million last week. The decentralized platform said that the “white hat” hacker had returned nearly all the cryptocurrency looted.

The unusual ending does not underscore the fast-emerging risks in a segment of crypto which involves an estimated $80 billion or more. DeFi sites enable users to lend, borrow, and usually save in cryptocurrencies. They can do it much quicker because bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of finance such as banks and exchanges. Backers say the technology offers cheaper and more efficient access to financial services.

However, the heist at Poly Network has again exposed chinks in the otherwise unbreakable armor of Decentralized Finance. Hackers often exploit bugs in an open-source code used by such sites, and the lack of regulations makes little or no recourse for victims.

Earlier, Crypto cyberheists had made the Centralised exchanges which act as middlemen between buyers and sellers of crypto as the main target. In 2014 Tokyo-based exchange Mt.Gox lost half a billion dollars in hacks and subsequently collapsed. Therefore, major exchanges under the radar of regulatory authorities and are striving to attract mainstream investors have been augmenting the security to prevent any future breach. 

Less Secure

The responsibility of security at major platforms such as Coinbase Global Inc has pushed less-secure venues to the sidelines, said Ross Middleton, chief financial officer at DeFi platform DeversiFi. Ross added that big exchanges have good security, and the smaller businesses are not there anymore, and therefore the frontier is DeFi now.

Last week, Crypto intelligence firm CipherTrace said that losses from DeFi platforms are at an all-time high, and hackers and fraudsters are making off with $474 million from January through July. The surge came as funds started pouring into DeFi and as per DeFi Pulse, the total value held at such sites is now more than $80 billion. The amount was just $6 billion a year ago. DeFi feels that security risks are more probable at newer sites that may run on less secure code.

Rune Christensen, former head of the body behind high-profile DeFi application Maker, said that security noted that the safety and the risk gap between old, battle-tested DeFi protocols and new, untested DeFi protocols are widening. 

However, DeFi experts feel that DeFi can police itself. The use of open-source code means vulnerabilities can be quickly identified and solved by users, reducing crime risk.

However, for financial watchdogs and governments worldwide, the crypto sector is seen as a sector that needs regulations, and DeFi is increasingly in focus.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Gary Gensler has already made his intentions clear, and he would take a tough stance on DeFi. Gensler also said in his speech that Congress must draft legislation to rein in DeFi and crypto trading. Officials at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission have also signaled greater scrutiny.

Steve Anderrson
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