And how to better protect yours. The price of bitcoin took a tumble early Wednesday after a major South Korea-based cryptocurrency exchange, Bithumb, admitted hackers made off with more than US$31 million worth of virtual currency. The incident is the latest in a long string of thefts at the online portals where investors trade cash for digital coins such as bitcoin and ether.

Bithumb has not said how the attack occurred. For starters, cryptocurrency experts blame lax security at the hacked exchanges, as well as the booming popularity of digital currencies more generally.

“Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have risen dramatically in popularity and value over the past few years,” said John Sedunov, an assistant professor of finance at Villanova University. “This fast run-up may have caught some exchanges off-guard, and they may not have had the capital on hand, time, or even the technical ability to ramp up security features fast enough to ward off potential attackers.”

In other words, hackers love going after exchanges because they are a rewarding and often easy targets. In this respect, exchanges are little different from health-care providers with lucrative medical data, or credit reporting bureaus that hold Social Security numbers.

Unlike those types of institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges are purpose-built to move actual assets from one person to another. And that can raise additional risks. Read more from…

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