$140 billion in Bitcoin Is 'Lost' Due to Forgotten Passwords

But hackers are helping owners regain access to their digital funds.
Chris Young

A father-son team is helping Bitcoin owners to gain access to their assets after they were locked out having forgotten their passwords, a report by HypeBeast explains.

Chris and Charlie Brooks describe themselves as "ethical hackers" with a mission to help owners who are potentially sitting on massive Bitcoin wallets, having made relatively small investments in the digital currency's early years before forgetting their passwords. And it's a surprisingly common occurrence.

Millions of lost Bitcoin are recoverable

A report by The New York Times shows that approximately $140 billion in Bitcoin has not been claimed by owners who forgot their keys. This is corroborated by a recent report by cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis showing that roughly 20 percent of the 18.6 billion Bitcoin mined in total is considered to be "lost" in wallets that have seen no movements in years. Dramatically, a British man asked his local council if he could search a landfill as he believed a hard drive he mistakenly threw out might be there — the device contained 7,500 bitcoins which today would be worth over $280 million.

The Brooks family found that many of these "lost" assets are not irretrievably lost and they have helped owners to regain access, sometimes uncovering a trove of digital currency that has risen dramatically in value since it was lost — Bitcoin, for example, reached a value of $48,152 in August. "We came up with a number of about 2.5% of that lost Bitcoin that we feel could still be recovered," Chris Brooks told HypeBeast in an interview. "which is something like $3.2 billion USD." The father-son duo both unsurprisingly have a background in programming and computer science. Chris Brooks said that while thinking of cryptocurrency-related business ideas in 2017 he realized that many people who had become interested in Bitcoin in its early days had since lost their passwords, preventing them from gaining access to assets that were rapidly rising in value. That's how the Brooks' company Crypto Asset Recovery was born.

'Brute forcing' a digital wallet

The father and son duo say that hacking into a Bitcoin wallet is easier than many would think. However, it can be an incredibly time-consuming process that requires a lot of knowledge about the way people decide on their passwords. In order to help their clients, the duo interview first them in order to put together a rough outline of what their password might be. "The more information they can give, the better, because then we can extrapolate on how they create passwords and their thought process behind it," Charlie Brooks told HypeBeast. The father and son then compile a massive list of potential passwords which is then used to "brute force" the owner's digital wallet.

On their website, the Crypto Asset Recovery team say "bitcoin and alt-coin passwords are secure enough to foil a brute force password attack when the attacker has no prior knowledge of the password. However, when the crypto asset owner knows part of their own password the probability of recovering it increases dramatically." The success rate is currently at around 27 percent, though the father and son say this is lowered dramatically by fraudulent or inaccurate claims made by people trying to get into the wallets of others. When it does work, the team say that clients have recovered life-altering amounts of money.

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