Skip to Content

A crypto-stealing “SIM swapper” has been sent to jail for the first time

February 4, 2019

A college student alleged to have stolen $5 million in cryptocurrency by way of hijacking phone numbers—a technique called SIM swapping—has pled guilty and will go to jail for 10 years, according to Motherboard.

Digital pickpocketing on the rise: SIM swapping entails gaining control of telephone numbers (for example, by posing as the phones’ users to their wireless carriers) and then resetting passwords to cryptocurrency wallet applications before draining them. Over the past few years, it’s become a particularly popular and damaging attack. Assailants have at times appeared to target prominent people known to hold large amounts of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

In August of 2018 Michael Terpin, a prominent cryptocurrency investor, filed a lawsuit against AT&T, accusing it of fraud and negligence after hackers stole cryptocurrency from his personal account. In November, a cryptocurrency-focused US firm brought another suit against AT&T and T-Mobile on behalf of SIM-swapping victims. Also on Friday, a 20-year-old was indicted in New York and charged with carrying out more than 50 SIM-swapping attacks against targets all over the country.

Sensing weakness: Billions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency is now stored online, and it’s often not well-protected. That’s attracted the attention of creative and sophisticated criminal hackers, including professional groups. While blockchains have some inherent security advantages, third-party applications like exchanges and wallet services that store their users’ private keys can represent a soft underbelly that thieves can exploit. SIM swapping is just one way to do that. The lesson here is simple: if you don’t control your keys, you don’t control your cryptocurrency.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting

With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

On key metrics, a VR experience elicited a response indistinguishable from subjects who took medium doses of LSD or magic mushrooms.

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.