Why Hot Wallets and What Makes Them Vulnerable?

| November 17, 2023

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Hot Wallets

Crypto wallets, the applications that allow users to manage their private keys and crypto assets on the blockchain are an important part of the ecosystem. While there are multiple types of wallets offering different levels of security and convenience, one particular type gets a lot of interest, both for right and wrong reasons. These are hot wallets, the simplest of wallets that play a huge role in driving the crypto industry.

For those who are unaware, hot wallets are crypto wallet applications that always stay connected to the internet and maintain private keys online. Designed by choice, these wallets are meant to facilitate quick transactions with minimal authorization requirements, making them ideal for traders and crypto platforms handling huge transaction volumes.

Why opt for a Hot Wallet?

The crypto market is known for its volatility, causing constant fluctuations in the asset value. For someone like a crypto trader whose earnings are dependent on profitably leveraging these fluctuations, every second spent executing a transaction makes a difference. As a result, they need wallets that offer the convenience of executing quick transactions with the involvement of the least number of steps. Similarly, crypto exchanges and trading platforms need to maintain a wallet infrastructure that meets the demands of thousands of traders who are part of their ecosystem.

Hot wallets form an indispensable part of crypto trading infrastructure as they meet all these requirements, viz. speed, and convenience. However, the always-online presence of private keys on the hot wallet also leaves it vulnerable to various threats that constantly threaten the crypto industry.

The Vulnerabilities of Hot Wallets

The normal course of operation of hot wallets involves various factors, each of them contributing to the vulnerability of hot wallets to both external and internal threats.

Online Private Keys

Hot wallets that are part of the crypto platforms’ infrastructure are always live to enable uninterrupted deposits and withdrawals by users. With the private keys of these wallets always online, cybercriminals and hackers get plenty of time to explore any gaps in the security to gain access. They have a higher probability of succeeding with various combinations of sustained attacks. Once they successfully gain access to the private keys, they can control all the funds that are stored in such compromised wallets and transfer them wherever they like.

Risks Associated with Manual Refill Process

The possibility of the private keys getting compromised by hackers’ actions forces platforms to maintain limited liquidity to minimize risk exposure. As a result, platforms choose to periodically replenish the hot wallets whenever liquidity falls below a certain threshold by adopting a manual refill process.

The manual refill process requires constant monitoring of hot wallets by dedicated teams who are responsible for moving funds from the platform’s warm or cold wallets to provide a seamless user experience. The size of the wallet refill team and the number of hot wallets managed by them means multiple people can have access to the private keys. The sharing of private keys among the team members reduces accountability and presents an inviting opportunity for any of them to work individually or in collusion with external actors to steal the assets.

Phishing and Malware Attacks

Most hot wallets use a simple authentication process which not only reduces the time taken to execute transactions but also makes it a bit simpler for cybercriminals to compromise these security features and steal funds. If they can’t attack directly, they can go after those with authorization to gain access to these wallets. Phishing, Social engineering, and Malware attacks are common methods to encourage employees and users to unknowingly divulge their credentials to cybercriminals, making it easier for them to steal the funds.

Effect of Hot Wallet Vulnerabilities

Now, let us consider the effects of hot wallet vulnerabilities on the operations of crypto platforms. The most devastating effect of these vulnerabilities is felt when someone ends up successfully exploiting them. In that event, the result will be devastating both in terms of loss of funds and reputation. Hackers may siphon the entire holding in the hot wallet with no one being the wiser.

We have many examples from the past where hot wallet vulnerabilities have proven to be costly. Be it the Binance hack on May 7, 2019, that led to the loss of over 7000 BTC, the Coincheck hack in 2018 leading to losses worth $574 million, or the more recent $200 million Bitmart hack in December 2021, they all have caused considerable damage to the respective platforms and investors.

Risk Mitigation in Anticipation of Threats

The constant threat of hot wallets being compromised forces the platforms to take extra precautions to minimize potential risks. Some of these steps include

– Capping the maximum balance held in hot wallets at all times to a small percentage of total available funds to meet operational requirements

– Constant monitoring and periodic replenishment of hot wallets whenever the balance reaches a minimum threshold

– Storing most of the funds in cold wallets or other secure infrastructure, to be withdrawn only when necessary to fund the hot wallets

– Enhanced security features including multi-factor authentication and multisig support wherever possible.

While these steps are neither comprehensive nor foolproof, it helps organizations keep their risk exposure to a minimum. However, the current process of protecting funds from hot wallet vulnerabilities also proves to be costly due to the extensive manpower requirements for constant monitoring and refilling. It also introduces more human intervention than desired, which by itself could introduce new risks driven by human error or greed.

The best way to overcome these additional security loopholes is through automation to bring down human intervention to the bare minimum. Secure automation in addition to other best practices will help platforms manage hot wallets without worrying about risks arising from the human factor while keeping the manpower requirement and costs low.

Liminal is one of the leading enterprise crypto infrastructure solutions platforms that help organizations with digital asset self-custody needs. One of its products, the Liminal Smart Wallet Refill helps platforms automate refill schedules using a multisig Smart Refill wallet while retaining complete control over the entire process. Backed by HSM devices, the Smart Refill Wallet keys are never exposed in plain text while signing transactions ensuring easy key holder management and refill process. Key authority assignment on Liminal follows a familiar process that is similar to conventional authorization policies used on AWS IAM and Azure Active Directory Permissions enabling conventional cloud teams that are part of the organization to manage the process. With Smart Refill, the platforms are assured of constant hot wallet monitoring and refills round the clock, in compliance with its refill policies without the need for dedicated manpower.

If you wish to give Liminal Smart Refill a try, then fill out this form and we will reach out to you.

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More on Crypto

Digital Asset markets have taken a giant leap ever since their categorization from purely being a volatile alternate investment asset to now being a robust and regulated asset class. 

The journey of digital assets, most significantly that of blue-chip tokens like Bitcoin and Ethereum, has been nothing short of a protagonist in the fight against traditional financial systems, investment avenues, and age-old yield mechanisms. 

However, it was only after the introduction of regulation for these digital assets that they garnered huge institutional interest, pushing the scale of adoption and inviting the likes of family offices to partake in the “coming of age” story of investing in digital assets. 

In the underlying characterization of digital assets as the next best portfolio addition for institutional investors, with a significant boost kicking in after the launch of Bitcoin ETFs(with Ethereum ETFs also on their way), there are still reservations as to how to go about tackling the security, custody, and management challenges that come with them. 

To discuss how current market conditions are driving family offices to embrace portfolio diversification strategies that include allocating funds to digital assets, we dive deep into the intricacies of digital asset custody

Challenges In Secure Digital Asset Investing For Family Offices 

Family offices, traditionally known for their conservative investing approach, sit in the middle of the institutional investors’ branch, bringing untapped liquidity into the market. Conventionally, family offices used to rely only on safer investment bets to accrue value for their investments, but now they are increasingly dipping their toes into the dynamic world of digital assets. 

Despite the potential for high returns, family offices have historically faced significant challenges when considering digital assets as an investment class. Factors such as market volatility, regulatory uncertainty, and the need for established custody solutions have deterred many from fully embracing digital assets.

Talking about the key hurdles family offices face in navigating this exciting but complex landscape, here are some top-of-the-line challenges for them:

  1. Security Concerns: The nascent nature of digital assets presents unique security risks. Hacking, scams, and volatile markets can threaten portfolio stability. Family offices need robust custody solutions, advanced cybersecurity measures, and comprehensive risk management strategies to mitigate these threats.
  2. Regulatory Uncertainty: The regulatory landscape surrounding digital assets is still evolving, creating uncertainty and compliance hurdles. Family offices must stay updated on changing regulations and navigate complex compliance requirements across jurisdictions.
  3. Limited Expertise: Building internal expertise in digital assets can be time-consuming and expensive. Family offices often need more in-house knowledge and resources to properly evaluate, manage, and secure their digital asset investments.
  4. Lack of Infrastructure: Integrating digital assets into existing portfolio management systems can take time and effort. Family offices need secure and reliable infrastructure to seamlessly store, manage, track, and report on their digital asset holdings.
  5. Complex Valuation: Accurately valuing digital assets can be difficult due to their volatility and lack of standardized methodologies. Family offices need robust valuation frameworks and access to reliable market data to make informed investment decisions.

Enabling Family Offices to overcome challenges in digital asset custody

The promise of digital assets is undeniable, yet the hurdles for family offices can seem daunting. 

Overcoming the challenges mentioned above and finding the best probable solutions for them becomes a hardcore reality that must be dealt with utmost precision. 

At Liminal, we work extensively with institutions looking to go one step beyond simply investing in digital assets and look to operate them securely under all circumstances. The same logic applies to family offices as well. 

In our pursuit of building such a robust infrastructure solution, tailored to address the challenges faced by family offices fully and to empower them in their journey to moving to a new asset class for investment, we have created a comprehensive custody solution, integrated best-in-class security protocols and provide real-time monitoring and risk management services to proactively identify and mitigate potential threats, giving family offices peace of mind knowing their assets are secure.

  1. Security Concerns:

Fortress-grade custody: We leverage multi-sig and MPC wallets, leading asset-to-insurance ratios, and bank-grade security protocols to ensure the safety of your assets. Our CCSS Level-3 certification and FIPS-compliant hardware devices go the extra mile, minimizing security risks and providing unmatched peace of mind.

Advanced Cybersecurity Measures: Our vigilant team constantly employs 24/7 SOC monitoring, strict access controls, and penetration testing to identify and mitigate potential threats.

Comprehensive Risk Management: Our experts help you create and implement tailored risk management strategies, considering internal vulnerabilities, market fluctuations, and evolving threats.

  1. Regulatory Uncertainty:

Staying Ahead of the Curve: We have a dedicated team of compliance experts who stay abreast of evolving regulations worldwide. We integrate crucial compliance monitoring in our solutions such as KYC/KYB, AML, and Travel Rule checks, to help navigate complexities across jurisdictions and proactively adapt our services to ensure your portfolio remains compliant.

Streamlined Reporting: Our platform generates comprehensive compliance reports automatically, saving you time and resources while ensuring transparency and regulatory adherence.

Regulatory Partnerships: We actively engage with regulatory bodies and industry leaders 

to become accredited custodians. Currently, we hold a TCSP license in Hong Kong and have also received an IPA from ADGM for an FSP license for our Abu Dhabi entity. 

  1. Limited Expertise:

Your Digital Asset Knowledge Hub: Our team of seasoned custody, compliance, wallet, and security professionals offers expert guidance on evaluating, managing, and securing your digital asset investments. We share industry insights, educational resources, and ongoing support to enhance your knowledge base.

Dedicated Account Management: A dedicated account manager serves as your point of contact, providing personalized guidance and support tailored to your specific needs and goals.

Extensive Resource Library: Access easy onboarding docs, a curated developer section, seamless user-guiding workflow, and trending topic discussions through webinars, research whitepapers, and market reports to build your understanding of digital assets and make informed investment decisions.

  1. Lack of Infrastructure:

Seamless Integration: Our API library, Liminal Express, seamlessly integrates with your existing portfolio management systems, creating a smooth and efficient workflow for managing your digital assets.

Secure Storage and Management: We provide institutional-grade hot and cold wallets for self and managed custody infrastructure, eliminating the need to build or manage complex systems.

Automated Workflows: Streamline recurring tasks and automate key processes with our automation engine, with powerful functionalities like smart refill wallet, smart consolidation, and auto-sweep, enhancing efficiency and reducing operational burdens.

  1. Complex Valuation:

Reliable Data and Valuation Tools: We offer access to trusted market data providers and valuation tools tailored for digital assets, enabling you to make informed investment decisions based on accurate assessments.

Insurance-as-a-Service: We have collaborated with Costero brokers to provide the best possible insurance to our clients that covers their entire portfolio at the best market price. 

Asset segregation and transparency: We deploy segregated accounts, succession planning, and no rehypothecation of assets to allow family offices to maximize transparency and access. 

Embracing the Future Of Family Office Investing 

The future of wealth management includes digital assets. Family offices are actively exploring this burgeoning space, recognizing the potential for diversification and growth. Liminal Custody stands as your trusted partner in this journey. As a regulated custodian, we offer best-in-class security, industry-leading compliance solutions, and a dedicated team of experts, empowering you to invest in digital assets confidently.

Let Liminal Custody guide you through the process, making the path towards secure and compliant digital asset investment smooth and efficient. Contact us today and explore the new frontier of wealth management

Remember, while the potential is promising, navigating the digital asset landscape requires careful planning and collaboration with trusted partners. Liminal Custody is here to equip you with the knowledge and resources to succeed.

February 23, 2024

As we continue constructing a fully regulated digital asset custody platform, ensuring secure storage for both crypto and fiat assets remains a critical priority. 

To facilitate the last checkpoint of enabling institutions to convert their digital asset treasury into fiat currency, we’re expanding beyond pure wallet infrastructure and integrating seamless fiat off-ramp capabilities for our partners.

We’re thrilled to announce our partnership with Encryptus, licensed and compliant off-ramp solutions tailored for institutional clients. This collaboration elevates Liminal’s service offerings by empowering our partners to convert their digital asset treasuries into fiat currencies efficiently.

Integrating A Seamless Off-Ramp Solution

The digital asset ecosystem historically faced friction points when transitioning between fiat and cryptocurrencies. Off-ramp solutions address this pain point by enabling efficient and streamlined conversion between asset classes, minimising value loss and simplifying compliance processes.

Here’s how off-ramp changes the game:

  • Reduced Friction: Frictionless conversion minimises delays and operational complexities associated with traditional fiat-crypto exchange methods.
  • Enhanced Efficiency: Streamlined workflows expedite asset conversion, increasing speed and cost-effectiveness for institutional and individual users.
  • Optimised Value Preservation: Advanced off-ramp solutions prioritise minimising price slippage and value loss during conversion, protecting user portfolios.
  • Simplified Compliance: Integrated compliance features navigate regulatory complexities, ensuring adherence to relevant financial regulations.

With our partnership with Encryptus, we have embedded their institutional-grade APIs, connecting their off-ramp solution within Liminal’s wallet and custody platform. 

This integration simplifies our clients’ liquidation requirements while keeping their assets secure and more:

  • Effortless Digital Asset to Fiat Conversion: Our partners will be able to access treasury management and facilitate business payments in 54 countries and individual payments in an extensive network of 80+ countries.
  • Streamlined Compliance and Regulation: Our partners will be able to leverage Encryptus’s rigorous licensing and compliance framework, ensuring adherence to stringent financial regulations.
  • Enhanced Platform Value: We will be able to expand the functionality of the Liminal custody solution, attracting institutional users seeking comprehensive digital asset management capabilities.

Moving Towards A Robust Off-Ramp Partnership With Encryptus

The partnership between Liminal and Encryptus earmarks a significant step forward in secure digital asset custody, representing a shared commitment to pushing compliant practices while supplying institutions with easy access to convert their digital assets to fiat. 

For Encryptus, the opportunity to integrate with Liminal’s established platform presents a chance to reach a wider audience and scale their innovative off-ramp solutions to new heights. By streamlining fiat conversion within Liminal’s secure custody infrastructure, Encryptus gains access to a trusted network of institutional users seeking seamless and compliant treasury management.

For Liminal, this collaboration reinforces our dedication to partnering with companies that demonstrably prioritise clear governance and robust policy frameworks. By aligning with Encryptus’s stringent compliance standards, we reaffirm our commitment to building a secure and sustainable future for digital assets, where trust and regulatory certainty go hand-in-hand.

January 22, 2024

Hello world, it’s that time of the month when we share the biggest security breaches in the world of Web3 through our Security and Regulatory Newsletter. 

Liminal believes in optimizing security and custody practices globally across the Web3 industry. Through our Newsletter, we highlight security, regulations, and compliance incidents that have happened in the past month and how one can follow better Security practices to safeguard their digital assets. 

We will also highlight regulatory changes that might have happened globally, which were significant to the overall ecosystem.

Dive in and get a detailed analysis of everything security and regulation in the domain of web3 with Liminal’s Monthly Security and Regulatory Newsletter.

Web3 Security Compromises in January

Abracadabra exploited for almost $6.5 million, Magic Internet Money stablecoin depegs

The Magic Internet Money ($MIM) stablecoin has lost its dollar peg again, dipping all the way below $0.77 in a flash crash before returning to around $0.95.

The depeg appears to be related to an exploit of the Abracadabra lending protocol, which allows people to borrow $MIM. An attacker exploited an apparent flaw in the platform’s smart contracts to drain around $6.5 million.

Goledo Finance hacked for $1.7 million

Goledo Finance, an Aave-based lending protocol, was exploited through a flash loan attack. The attacker stole assets estimated by CertiK to be around $1.7 million.

Goledo Finance contacted the attacker to offer a 10% “bounty” for the return of the remaining assets. In a message on January 29, the attacker wrote: “I hacked Goledo and want to negotiate.”

Socket service and its Bungee bridge suffer $3.3 million theft

The Socket cross-chain infrastructure protocol was hacked for around $3.3 million in an attack that exploited its Bungee bridge. The thieves were able to exploit a bug that allowed them to take assets from those who had approved a portion of the system called SocketGateway.

A little over 700 victims were affected, and the highest loss from a single wallet was around $657,000. 121 wallets lost assets priced at more than $10,000.

On January 23, the protocol announced they had recovered 1,032 ETH (~$2.23 million) of the stolen funds.

Web3 Regulatory Practices for January

The EU Imposes Stricter Due Diligence Rules for Crypto Firms

On Jan. 17, the European Council and the Parliament came to a provisional agreement on parts of the Anti-Money Laundering Regulation (AMLR) that now extends to the crypto sector.

Under the new rules, cryptocurrency firms will be required to run due diligence on their customers involving a transaction amounting to €1,000 ($1,090) or more. 

However, the agreement isn’t final yet as it has to be first officially adopted by the Council and Parliament before the rules can be applied.

So, after the EU passed its landmark MiCA regulation last year, which clarified rules about cryptocurrencies, regulators are now targeting the space with tighter controls. 

While these regulations bolster security and trust in the crypto market, potentially attracting more cautious investors and combating financial crimes, they also present challenges. 

The US State of Virginia Introduces Digital Assets Mining Rights

Recently, the Virginia State Senate introduced Bill No. 339, which outlines regulations for the transactions and mining of digital assets and their treatment under tax laws. 

The legislation exempts individuals and businesses engaged in crypto mining activities from obtaining money transmitter licenses. Additionally, it protects miners from any discrimination. 

Issuers and sellers of crypto are also exempted from securities registration requirements if certain conditions are met. Moreover, those offering mining or staking services are not to be classified as “financial investment” but must file a notice to qualify for the exemption.

The bill further incentivizes crypto’s use for everyday transactions by offering tax benefits. Under this, up to $200 per transaction can be excluded from an individual’s net capital gains or gains derived from using crypto to purchase goods or services, starting from Jan. 1, 2024.

Key Takeaways:

  • Hackers continue to exploit vulnerabilities in DeFi protocols and cross-chain bridges, highlighting the need for robust security measures.
  • Regulatory frameworks are evolving rapidly, with stricter AML rules and supportive legislation for emerging technologies like crypto mining.
  • Staying informed about these developments is crucial for navigating the digital assets market safely and responsibly.

Stay #LiminalSecure

These events highlight the constant evolution of Web3 security and regulation. You can confidently navigate this dynamic landscape by staying informed and prioritizing security best practices. 

At Liminal, we’re committed to empowering institutions to unlock the full potential of digital assets without compromising security or compliance norms with our robust custody and wallet infrastructure solutions. Join us on this journey towards a safer, more accessible future for digital assets.

January 15, 2024

Find Out How You Can Benefit From A Fully Self-Custodial Wallet Architecture