Ben Weintraub woke up to some bad news when he dropped out of college.

Mr. Weintraub and two classmates from the University of Chicago had spent the past few months working on a software platform called Beanstalk, which offered a stable coin with a fixed value of $1 Beanstalk became an overnight sensation due to the fact that it was an exciting contribution to the experimental field of Defi.

It fell. A hacker exploited a flaw in Beanstalk's design in April to steal more than $180 million from users. Mr. Weintraub was home for Passover when the hack happened.

He told them to wake up. Beanstalk is no longer alive.

The digital currency industry has been a target for hackers for years. A new type of threat has arisen from the rapid proliferation of De Fi start-ups.

These ventures allow people to borrow, lend and conduct other transactions without the need for a bank or broker. Defi software allows investors to take out loans without revealing their identities. The emerging sector was seen as the future of finance, a democratic alternative to Wall Street, as the market surged last year. About $100 billion in virtual currency was given to hundreds of Defi projects.

Some of the software was flawed. The industry is on pace for its worst year of hacking losses due to the fact that $2.2 billion in cryptocurrencies has been stolen this year.

The computer programs that power Defi have flaws that have led to many of the thefts. The programs are constructed quickly. Because smart contracts use open-source code, which provides a publicly viewable map of the software, hackers have been able to organize attacks on the digital infrastructure itself. It's not the same as emptying a bank vault.

The vice president of investigations at Chainalysis said that Defi has made it easier for hackers to access a platform. It puts a lot of pressure on the space and restricts the innovation that is possible.

During a difficult time for the industry, the breaches have made people question their faith in Defi. Several high-profile companies were forced into bankruptcy due to the crash. Thieves stole $190 million from a company called Nomad. Wintermute said last week that it had been hacked and that it had lost $160 million.

It's easy to track the movement of stolencryptocurrencies. Transactions are recorded on public ledgers that can be analyzed to find patterns. It is more difficult to get back access to lost funds.

The hacks have prompted many start-ups to look into preventative measures. Security and auditing companies have seen a huge surge in business despite other types of firms cutting costs.

The year was a good one for attackers according to the founder of ConsenSys Diligence. It's ingrained in the minds of people that security is important.

Security has been a problem for companies from the beginning. Mt., was the first major exchange for the virtual currency. The company went bankrupt and lost billions of dollars in digital currency after it was attacked.

ImageThe main stage at Bitcoin 2021 in Miami. Bitcoin exchanges have been hacked in the past.
The main stage at Bitcoin 2021 in Miami. Bitcoin exchanges have been hacked in the past.Credit...Alfonso Duran for The New York Times
The main stage at Bitcoin 2021 in Miami. Bitcoin exchanges have been hacked in the past.

The industry was relatively simple at the time. There is an experimental economy of video games, newfangled coins, and other projects that can be attacked. The $600 million that was stolen from the Poly Network was returned by the hacker after negotiations with the project's leaders.

The hacks have caused a lot of damage. A group sponsored by the North Korean government stole $620 million in digital currency from the Ronin Network in March. A hacker took advantage of a software flaw in a Defi project to steal $320 million.

Chris Tarbell is a former F.B.I. agent who runs a cybersecurity firm. Criminals are going to be opportunists in rich environments.

The cross-chain bridge, which allows investors to switch back and forth between digital currencies, was exploited by the wormhole hack. A trader who owns a lot of ether might want to use an application on another currency that doesn't have to be bought or sold.

These bridges are valuable targets because of the amount of money flowing across them. According to Chainalysis, there have been 10 hacks this year that have resulted in losses of over a billion dollars.

The founder of Halborn said that the technology is complex and the enemy of security.

The bridge was not built as a cross- chain bridge. It had more than one vulnerability baked into its code.

The project's inner workings were barely visible. There are 61 pages of graphs, charts and mathematical equations in the white paper.

The number of Pods that grow from 1 Sown Bean is determined by the temperature at the time of Sowing.

It was possible to deposit tens of millions of dollars in virtual currency into a software system which generated interest and helped maintain the value of a stable coin called a bean.

The project wasn't a start-up. Mr. Weintraub and his two co-conspirators called themselves Publius, an homage to the authors of the Federalist Papers. When the software was released in August of 2021, users who deposited their coins got votes in an investor collective called a decentralized organization, which had to agree to make changes to the software

The collective governance of Beanstalk was its downfall. A hacker borrowed $1 billion of digital currency from another Defi project. The transaction was a so-called flash loan, in which a user borrows funds, makes a trade, and immediately pays back the loan, keeping any profits from the series of exchanges.

Mr. Weintraub and his partners did not have a way to stop someone from taking over the platform with a flash loan. The hacker used $1 billion to take control of the governance of the software. The hacker took everyone's money and moved it out of the system.

There was a lot of panic. One user said he lost $1 million. It took place through beans.

Some users thought that Mr. Weintraub and the other founding members were behind the attack.

The pitchforks were not in use. It felt like death, I felt it.

He and the others decided to keep going. They reported the theft to the F.B.I. and called Beanstalk enthusiasts to find a way forward. They disclosed their identities for the first time in an April post. Even though the project wasn't a traditional business, they could be vulnerable to lawsuits.

The Beanstalk DAO has been working to restart the project since the beginning of the year. Halborn was hired to review the code to eliminate any vulnerabilities. There was a reopening last month.

Comeback efforts are becoming more and more common. This is an experiment and we have always been transparent with the community. All of us are figuring this out.

The funds have not been found.

Kitty Bennett is a researcher.