That could involve significant sums: it paid out millions of dollars in bitcoin every week, according to its official Facebook page. "In addition to undertaking our own investigation, the incident has been reported to the relevant authorities and law enforcement and we are co-operating with them as a matter of urgency", said NiceHash. "We are now investigating the nature of the incident and, as a result, we are stopping all operations for the next 24 hours", the marketplace said in a statement late on Wednesday. Several reports from users noted that their Bitcoin wallets associated with NiceHash had been emptied.
Cryptocurrencies are virtual "coins" that are "mined" by computers using complex algorithms.
Bitfinex, a Hong Kong-based bitcoin exchange, was briefly shut down past year after hackers stole almost 120,000 bitcoins - worth more than $65 million at the time. That means it has attracted a range of backers, from libertarian monetarists who enjoy the idea of a currency with no inflation and no central bank, to drug dealers who like the fact that it's hard (but not impossible) to trace a bitcoin transaction back to a physical person.
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"While the full scope of what happened is not yet known, we recommend, as a precaution, that you change your online passwords", the site told users.
NiceHash users took to Reddit to discuss the breach and speculate on whether this heist was an inside job.
NiceHash customers frequently move the cryptocurrency they earn on NiceHash off the service and into their own digital wallets or onto a bitcoin exchange. Others said their balances on the website went down to zero. Bitcoin can only be used as a medium of exchange and in practice has been far more important for the dark economy than it has for most legitimate uses. As the outage protracted through the day, speculation swirled on social media that its digital wallet had been hacked. Around US$162 million in the cryptocurrency ether has been frozen after a novice hacker deleted a code library needed to access funds being stored in some Parity digital wallets.