Much Ado about the Akutars NFT exploit

The highly anticipated Micah Johnson’s Akutars NFT project went wrong after an issue with the project smart contract resulted in a $34 million loss. 

The Akutars Project

The Akutars project is the brainchild of Micah Johnson; a pro baseball player turned crypto-artist. The project came as a response to a black boy’s question of whether there could be black astronauts. With a launch date set for April 22nd, the Akutars NFT project would be Johnson’s largest NFT project. The Crypto-artist collaborated with Pusha-T and Upscale Vandal to curate a wide variety of legendary fashion and streetwear collaborators to help bring new life to the Akuverse.

Akutars NFT project featured 15,000 NFTs launched via a duction auction that sees the sale start at a fixed high amount and drop over time to the final sale amount. Despite the starting price of 3.5 ETH (set to drop by 0.1 ETH every six minutes), hopeful collectors of thousands of transactions submitted thousands of transactions.

The launch, however, didn’t go as anticipated. Due to the project’s fanfare before the drop, several collectors were looking to grab NFTs from the collection. As soon as collectors trooped to the website to take part in the drop, an issue with the project’s smart contract caused a problem that led to the loss of a staggering $34 million locked in the project smart contract. 

Before, the loss of the $34 million, popular NFT community member Hasan had raised concerns about a potential issue with the project’s smart contract in a tweet. This was followed up with Akutar’s development team, and the team assured us that there were fail-safes in place to prevent any potential problems.

Could the $34 million loss have been prevented?

After Hasan notified Akutar’s developmental team about the issue with its smart contract, a hacker named USER221 quickly became aware of the issue and triggered an exploit that halted withdrawals and refunds from the contract, leading to 11,539 ETH (around $34 million) being locked in the Akutars contract.

In a move that seemed directed at getting the Akutars NFT team to take responsibility for the issues in the smart contract, the hacker promised to remove the block once the Akutar team publicly acknowledged that there were issues with the smart contract. Another user also suggested that the project developers have their contracts audited before the project launches. 

However, the anonymous user unlocking the action that halted the contract initially resulted in funds being locked in the contract forever, unretrievable by either the Akutars developers or USER221. 

Some suggested that this loss could have been avoided if the project developers had been more open and transparent with the NFT community. If the concern raised by Hasan had been duly attended to by the developer, then the loss would have been avoided, and the launch would have gone on without interruption. 

The public’s trust in NFT projects 

The Akutars’ failed drop follows a growing list of security issues associated with the NFT ecosystem. The prevalence of scams and exploits means that developers and community members should be proactive in preventing these occurrences. 

These issues associated with NFT procurement and ownership could reduce the public’s trust in the NFT ecosystem. Although the $34 million still remains irrecoverable, the Aku team has responded equally by assuring that they would push ahead with the NFT collections and issue refunds to early access collectors. 

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