In an unexpected revelation, Ilya Lichtenstein, 35, confessed to being the original hacker behind the 2016 cyberattack on crypto exchange Bitfinex, a theft that was once worth $4.5 billion. Lichtenstein made the admission while pleading guilty to laundering the stolen bitcoin in a Washington, D.C. federal court, with his wife, Heather Morgan, also pleading guilty to related charges.
Groundbreaking Admission: Ilya Lichtenstein Confesses to 2016 Bitfinex Hack
Until the court’s admission on Thursday, the person responsible for the hack from Bitfinex was unknown to the public. Though not charged with the hack itself, Lichtenstein faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. His wife, Morgan, an aspiring rapper known as “Razzlekahn” could face up to five years. This is the first time the identity of the hacker has been disclosed, with the couple facing significant prison time, as CNBC first reported on the matter.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) seized over 94,000 bitcoin (BTC) out of the more than 119,000 hacked, worth billions at the time of arrest in February 2022. Since then, the government has confiscated $475 million more related to the hack. Lichtenstein’s attack was quite similar to James Zhong’s attack against the Silk Road. “Lichtenstein used a number of advanced hacking tools and techniques to gain access to Bitfinex’s network,” the DOJ said, according to CNBC’s report. The government’s complaint further added:
Once inside their systems, Lichtenstein fraudulently authorized more than 2,000 transactions in which 119,754 bitcoin was transferred from Bitfinex to a cryptocurrency wallet in Lichtenstein’s control.
CNBC reporters Eamon Javers, and Dan Mangan further detailed that Morgan played an active role, assisting her husband in laundering the stolen funds. Around 25,000 stolen bitcoin were transferred out of Lichtenstein’s wallet through a complex money laundering process, ending up in accounts controlled by the couple, the report highlights. Further investigation revealed that the couple converted some assets into gold coins, with Morgan even burying them at a location known to law enforcement.
Lichtenstein’s travels to Ukraine and Kazakhstan were discovered to involve converting digital assets to cash through Russian and Ukrainian middlemen, then shipping it to addresses where he could retrieve it. The crypto couple’s high-profile court case occurred on the same day as the former president, Donald Trump, was charged, leading to a rescheduling of the proceedings.