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31st Oct 2023

Hackers offer solution for man who has two password attempts to access $200m of Bitcoin before it’s lost

Charlie Herbert

Hackers offer solution for man who has two password attempts to access $200m of Bitcoin before it's lost

They might have the answer to his prayers

A cybersecurity firm thinks it has the solution for a man who has just two more password attempts to try and recover more than $200m worth of Bitcoin – or lose it forever.

Back in 2011, Stefan Thomas, a German-born programmer living in San Francisco, had 7,002 bitcoins that were given to him.

The cryptocurrency had been given to him as a form of payment for a video Thomas made about bitcoin for a client.

At the time, each Bitcoin was worth just $2 each. Of course, since then the value of the cryptocurrency has absolutely rocketed (and has also dropped)

His 7,002 bitcoins ended up being worth roughly $34,500 each, so a mind-boggling $241,569,000 in total.

Thomas had a major issue though. The coins were on a password-protected IronKey hard drive, which he had forgotten the password for. Crucially, an IronKey device only gives someone 10 chances to put the right password in, after which point it encrypts the contents, meaning the bitcoins would be lost forever.

After eight failed attempts, Thomas stopped trying. To make matters worse, he’d even written the password down on a piece of paper, which he had also lost.

Cybersecurity experts have been trying to work out whether there’s any way the hard drive can be hacked to access the Bitcoin, and one firm thinks it has the answer.

Unciphered, a firm that quite handily specialises in recovering lost cryptocurrency, claims it has found a way to hack into IronKey hard drives.

They even demonstrated the secret method to Wired journalist, Andy Greenberg. He had set a three-word password on an IronKey device, and then sent it to the tech startup’s lab in Seattle.

The day after the device arrived at the lab, the team sent Greenberg his password in a message: ‘Query voltage recurrence.’

According to the team, a high-performance computer had managed to work out the password after 200 trillion tries.

So, you’d think that once Thomas was told about this development he couldn’t wait to get his IronKey device sent over so he could finally get hold of his millions.

Well, apparently not.

He told Wired that he has declined Unciphered’s help because he has agreements with other teams who are looking for a solution.

Thomas told the publication: “I have already been working with a different set of experts on the recovery so I’m no longer free to negotiate with someone new.

“It’s possible that the current team could decide to subcontract Unciphered if they feel that’s the best option. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Related links:

Man hunting missing hard drive containing £150m of Bitcoin comes up with high-tech plan to recover it

Woman swindled out of $300K worth of Bitcoin by Hinge date in latest romance scam

Online passwords should be completely scrapped to stop hackers, says cyber expert