Photo by Jonathan Borba / Unsplash

One of the largest crypto heists was halted in its tracks, not by law enforcement or a major financial institution, but by the quick thinking of a consultant. Kumanan Ramanathan, a consultant from Alvarez & Marsall and an advisor to the crypto exchange FTX, single-handedly put a stop to the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars in cryptocurrency.

FTX, once the pinnacle of crypto exchanges with a valuation of $32 billion, found itself in dire straits, having filed for bankruptcy. As if the situation wasn't bad enough, a group of unidentified cybercriminals launched a devastating attack on the beleaguered company's wallets.

This wasn’t just an inside job or a covert operation. The entire theft was in plain sight, with every transaction clearly visible on the Ethereum blockchain explorer, Etherscan. It was as if watching a heist unfold in real-time, with millions watching, but powerless to stop it.

As alarm bells rang, the few remaining team members at FTX, alongside bankruptcy lawyers, advisors, and consultants, were hastily brought together on a Google Meet call. In this high-pressure situation, a shocking revelation came to light. Very few among the FTX’s top brass actually knew the specifics about the location or the access to the exchange’s assets.

As the clock was ticking and with the heist underway, there was an urgent need to secure whatever funds they could. The question was posed, almost desperately: did anyone have a hardware wallet? This device, which looks like a USB stick, can store a user's private keys and offer a level of security far superior to online wallets.

Enter Ramanathan. In a moment of serendipity, he had his Ledger Nano hardware wallet with him. Without hesitation, he took charge of the situation. Setting up a new wallet, he began the process of transferring the endangered assets to his device.

This was by no means a long-term solution. In the world of crypto, leaving such a vast sum on a personal wallet, even a hardware one, is risky. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, FTX quickly contacted its crypto custodian, BitGo. The goal was to set up a more permanent and secure structure using BitGo’s cold storage solutions. These storage methods are disconnected from the internet and offer a higher level of security against hacks.

Until then, Ramanathan's Ledger became the temporary vault for the exchange's assets. By the dawn, this consultant had between $400 and $500 million in crypto under his stewardship, a figure which was confirmed by the recent Wired report.

FTX's ordeal wasn't over yet. After all the dust had settled, they found themselves lighter by a staggering $415 to $432 million due to the hack. But thanks to Ramanathan's quick thinking and resourcefulness, it wasn't worse.

Reactions to Ramanathan's actions were overwhelmingly positive. In a world where news about hacks and thefts in the crypto space are becoming alarmingly frequent, this story served as a beacon of hope.

"Kumanan's actions highlight the importance of individual responsibility and preparedness," said Josh Moynihan, a cybersecurity expert. "His foresight to have a hardware wallet and his quick response potentially saved half a billion dollars. That's commendable."

The story has a few essential takeaways. First, even in the high-tech world of cryptocurrencies, sometimes, old-fashioned quick thinking and resourcefulness can be invaluable. Second, the incident is a stark reminder for exchanges and individual holders about the importance of security in the digital assets space.

For Ramanathan, what started as another day at work turned into a night where he became the unsung hero of the crypto world. The consultant, usually behind the scenes, found himself at the forefront of a battle against cybercriminals. And while the heist was unfortunate, Ramanathan’s bravery and quick thinking ensured that the story had a silver lining.

In the aftermath, it’s hoped that exchanges and institutions will take a hard look at their security protocols to prevent such events in the future. But for now, Kumanan Ramanathan's name will be remembered as the consultant who stood tall when it mattered the most.