MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) – The bitcoin phenomenon broke another record on Wednesday while hackers made off with unspecified amount in cyber-heist.
The digital currency has shot above the $15,000 mark for the first time, the fourth big barrier it’s broken in less than two days.
Bitcoin has enjoyed a stunning rise this year, drawing increasing attention from mainstream investors.
After starting the year below $1,000, it hit the major milestone of $10,000 just last week. Despite a flurry of warnings from top economists and business leaders, its upward trajectory has continued — albeit with a few sharp dips along the way.
It zipped past $12,000, $13,000 and $14,000 within the past 48 hours before popping above $15,000 on Thursday morning in New York, according to the tracking site CoinDesk.
“Bitcoin now seems like a charging train with no brakes, said Shane Chanel, an adviser at investment services firm ASR Wealth Advisers. “There is an unfathomable amount of new participants piling into the cryptocurrency market.”
Bitcoin has suffered a series of steep drops during its epic rally this year, giving investors jarring reminders of its extreme volatility. After breaking above $11,000 last week, it abruptly plunged by more than $2,000 before resuming its climb.
Top economists and business leaders have dismissed it as a bubble: Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz said last week that bitcoin “ought to be outlawed.” But experts inside the industry predict its rally has a lot farther to run.
Hackers meanwhile carried out a heist on a leading digital currency platform, making off with an unspecified amount of bitcoin.
NiceHash, which describes itself as the largest marketplace for mining digital currencies, said late Wednesday that it was suspending its operations for at least 24 hours because of a security breach.
The site’s payment system was compromised and the contents of its bitcoin account have been stolen, it said.
Cryptocurrencies are virtual “coins” that are “mined” by computers using complex algorithms. Bitcoin is the most popular one.
NiceHash provides a platform for users to mine for other cryptocurrencies and get paid in bitcoin. That could involve significant sums: it paid out millions of dollars in bitcoin every week, according to its official Facebook page.
The site said it was still working to figure out exactly how many bitcoins were taken.
The digital currency’s value has soared in recent weeks, crossing $15,000 for the first time on Thursday morning.
CoinDesk, a site specializing in cryptocurrency news and data, reported that NiceHash users were circulating a link to a bitcoin account that suggested as many as 4,736 bitcoins had been stolen, an amount worth roughly $71 million at current prices.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether funds had been taken from NiceHash users’ accounts as well.
“While the full scope of what happened is not yet known, we recommend, as a precaution, that you change your online passwords,” NiceHash warned users.
“In addition to undertaking our own investigation, the incident has been reported to the relevant authorities and law enforcement and we are cooperating with them as a matter of urgency,” it said.
NiceHash didn’t immediately respond to a request for further comment about the hack.
The cyber heist is yet another reminder about the vulnerability of some digital currency platforms.
Bitfinex, a Hong Kong-based bitcoin exchange, was briefly shut down last year after hackers stole nearly 120,000 bitcoins — worth more than $65 million at the time.
The year before, cyber thieves made off with about 19,000 bitcoins after breaking into European exchange Bitstamp.
Cybersecurity firm FireEye warned recently that North Korean hackers are stepping up their attempts to steal bitcoin in order to support Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian regime.
Bitcoin’s rapid rise this year has been powered in part by expectations that established fund managers are set to start pouring money into the virtual currency as it gains legitimacy.
But a study published this week by Natixis Investment Managers, a major French asset management firm, found that 64% of institutional investors think bitcoin is a bubble.
The digital currency has also gotten a big lift this year from mom-and-pop investors in countries like South Korea and Japan who don’t want to miss out on the prospect of further big gains.
Bitcoin is one of many cryptocurrencies, virtual “coins” that are “mined” by computers using complex algorithms.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report)