Is it possible to steal bitcoins?

36 million euros: Unknown police steal confiscated bitcoins

Apparently, the police in Rhineland-Palatinate were stolen from a confiscated Bitcoin asset worth the equivalent of 36 million euros. The cryptocurrency fell into the hands of the judiciary during an investigation into a drug ring.

The cryptocurrency Bitcoin is a popular means of payment for illegal activities on the Internet. This is mainly due to the fact that the payment processes can be processed anonymously. In order to be able to spend a Bitcoin, however, you need its public and its secret key. They usually consist of a sequence of 64 characters - impossible to remember, which is why they are usually stored in so-called wallets, i.e. the digital equivalent of a wallet.

It was just such a Bitcoin wallet with 757 Bitcoins (worth around 36 million euros at the current rate) that the police seized in 2016 as part of their investigations into the Darknet drug hub "Chemical Love", reports the IT portal heise.de.

The main suspect in the case was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2017 - he is also said to pay the state 1.5 million euros. The judiciary would have liked to get it from the confiscated wallet. However, this was password-protected and encrypted so that the police couldn't get to the bitcoins. Attempts to crack the encryption failed.

Almost all bitcoins were secretly transferred away

The Koblenz attorney general reported to heise.de that as early as March 1, 2017, around 265 Bitcoins had been transferred away without authorization. At the end of 2019, another 489 Bitcoin were moved to other addresses - without the police being able to prevent this.

However, the public prosecutor did not want to give heise.de details of where exactly the cryptocurrency had gone and how exactly the transfers could take place, in order not to disrupt an ongoing investigation.

In fact, a transfer of the currency is easily possible if you know the public and private keys of the Bitcoins. A wallet is ultimately just a reminder. It would be conceivable that the keys were stored as paper printouts in a safe place - and strangers could now easily use them. There is also the possibility of generating keys from a derivation of an easier to remember word sequence. It could possibly have been passed on to third parties from prison, speculates heise.de.

The police in Rhineland-Palatinate are now left behind. Currently only four botcoins are stored in the original address to which the wallet belongs. Even if the police still found a way to crack the wallet, not even 200,000 euros would be left of the 36 million euros.