How Blockchain Bridges Became Hackers’ Prime Targets - The Defiant (2023)

Nearly a billion dollars in crypto assets have been stolen from blockchain bridges in 2022.

The crypto industry has evolved into an ecosystem interconnecting several Layer-1(L1) blockchains and Layer-2(L2) scaling solutions with unique capabilities and trade-offs.

Networks like Fantom, Terra, or Avalanche have become rich in DeFi activity, while play-to-earn dapps like Axie Infinity and DeFi Kingdoms sustain entire ecosystems like Ronin and Harmony. These blockchains have risen as serious alternatives to Ethereum’s gas fees and relatively slow transaction times. The need for an easy way to move assets between protocols on disparate blockchains became more critical than ever.

This is where blockchain bridges come in.

How Blockchain Bridges Became Hackers’ Prime Targets - The Defiant (1)

As a result of the multichain scenario, the Total Value Locked (TVL) across all DeFi dapps skyrocketed. At the end of March 2022, the industry’s TVL was estimated at $215 billion, 156% higher than March 2021. The amount of value locked and bridged in these DeFi dapps lured the attention of malicious hackers, and the latest trend suggests that attackers might have found a weak link in blockchain bridges.

According to the Rekt database, $1.2 billion in crypto assets were stolen in Q1 2022, representing 35.8% of all-time stolen funds according to the same source. Interestingly, at least 80% of the lost assets in 2022 have been stolen from bridges.

How Blockchain Bridges Became Hackers’ Prime Targets - The Defiant (2)

One of the most severe attacks occurred two weeks ago when the Ronin bridge was hacked for $540 million. Before that, the Solana Wormhole and BNB Chain’s Qubit Finance bridge were exploited for more than $400 million in 2022. The largest hack in the history of crypto occurred in August 2021 when the PolyNetwork bridge was exploited for $610 million, though the stolen funds were later returned.

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Bridges are one of the most valuable tools in the industry, but their interoperable nature presents an important challenge for the projects building them.

Understanding Blockchain Bridges

Analog to Manhattan bridges, blockchain bridges are platforms that connect two different networks enabling a cross-chain transfer of assets and information from one blockchain to another. In this way, cryptocurrencies and NFTs are not siloed within their native chains but can be “bridged” across different blockchains, multiplying the options to utilize these assets.

Thanks to bridges, Bitcoin is used in smart contract-based networks for DeFi purposes, or an NFL All Day NFT can be bridged from Flow to Ethereum to be fractionalized or used as collateral.

There are different approaches when it comes to transferring assets. As their name suggests, Lock-and-Mint bridges work by locking the original assets inside a smart contract on the sending side while the receiving network mints a replica of the original token on the other side. If Ether is bridged from Ethereum to Solana, the Ether in Solana is just a “wrapped” representation of the crypto, not the actual token itself.

How Blockchain Bridges Became Hackers’ Prime Targets - The Defiant (3)

While the lock-and-mint approach is the most popular bridging method, there are other ways to complete the asset transfer like ‘burn-and-mint’ or atomic swaps self-executed by a smart contract to interchange assets between two networks. Connext (formerly xPollinate) and cBridge are bridges that rely on atomic swaps.

From a security standpoint, bridges can be classified into two main groups: trusted and trustless. Trusted bridges are platforms that rely on a third party to validate transactions but, more importantly, to act as custodians of the bridged assets. Examples of trusted bridges can be found in almost all blockchain-specific bridges like the Binance Bridge, Polygon POS Bridge, WBTC Bridge, Avalanche Bridge, Harmony Bridge, Terra Shuttle Bridge, and specific dapps like Multichain (formerly Anyswap) or Tron’s Just Cryptos.

Conversely, platforms that rely purely on smart contracts and algorithms to custody assets are trustless bridges. The security factor in trustless bridges is tied to the underlying network where the assets are being bridged, i.e., where the assets are locked. Trustless bridges can be found in NEAR’s Rainbow Bridge, Solana’s Wormhole, Polkadot’s Snow Bridge, Cosmos IBC, and platforms like Hop, Connext, and Celer.

At first glance, it might look like trustless bridges offer a more secure option for transferring assets between blockchains. However, both trusted and trustless bridges face different challenges.

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Limitations of Trusted and Trustless Bridges

The Ronin bridge operates as a centralized trusted platform. This bridge uses a multisig wallet for custody of the bridged assets. In short, a multisig wallet is an address that requires two or more cryptographic signatures to approve a transaction. In Ronin’s case, the sidechain has nine validators that need five different signatures to approve deposits and withdrawals.

Other platforms use the same approach but diversify the risk better. For instance, Polygon relies on eight validators and requires five signatures. The five signatures are controlled by different parties. In the case of Ronin, four signatures were held by the Sky Mavis team alone, creating a single point of failure. After the hacker managed to control the four Sky Mavis signatures at once, only one more signature was needed to approve the withdrawal of assets.

On March 23, the attacker gained control over the Axie DAO’s signature, the final piece required to complete the attack. 173,600 ETH and 25.5 million USDC were drained from Ronin’s custodian contract in two different transactions in the second-largest crypto attack ever. It is also worth noting that the Sky Mavis team found out about the hack almost a week later, showing that Ronin’s monitoring mechanisms were at the very least deficient, revealing another flaw in this trusted platform.

While centralization presents a fundamental flaw, trustless bridges are prone to exploits due to bugs and vulnerabilities in their software and coding.

How Blockchain Bridges Became Hackers’ Prime Targets - The Defiant (4)

The Solana Wormhole, a platform that enables cross-bridge transactions between Solana and Ethereum, suffered an exploit in February 2022, where $325 million was stolen due to a bug in Solana’s custodian contracts. A bug in the Wormhole contracts allowed the hacker to devise the cross-chain validators. The attacker sent 0.1 ETH from Ethereum into Solana to trigger a set of “transfer messages” that tricked the program into approving a supposed 120,000 ETH deposit.

The Wormhole hack happened after Poly Network was exploited for $610 million in August 2021 due to flaws in the contracts’ taxonomy and structure. Cross-chain transactions in this dapp are approved by a centralized group of nodes called “keepers” and validated on the receiving network by a gateway contract. In this attack, the hacker was able to gain privileges as a keeper and thus deceived the gateway by setting its own parameters. The attacker repeated the process in Ethereum, Binance, Neo, and other blockchains to extract more assets.

All Bridges Lead To Ethereum

Ethereum remains the most dominant DeFi ecosystem in the industry, accounting for almost 60% of the industry’s TVL. At the same time, the rise of different networks as alternatives for Ethereum’s DeFi dapps sparked the cross-chain activity of blockchain bridges.

The largest bridge in the industry is the WBTC bridge, which is custodied by BitGo, Kyber, and Republic Protocol, the team behind RenVM. Since Bitcoin tokens are not technically compatible with smart contract-based blockchains, the WBTC bridge “wraps” the native Bitcoin, locks it in the bridge custodian contract and mints its ERC-20 version on Ethereum. This bridge became tremendously popular in DeFi Summer and now holds around $12.5 billion worth of Bitcoin. WBTC allows BTC to be used as collateral in dapps like Aave, Compound, and Maker, or to yield farm or earn interest in multiple DeFi protocols.

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Multichain, formerly known as Anyswap, is a dapp that offers cross-chain transactions to more than 40 blockchains with a built-in bridge. Multichain holds $6.5 billion across all connected networks. However, the Fantom bridge to Ethereum is by far the largest pool with $3.5 billion locked. During the second half of 2021, the Proof-of-Stake network established itself as a popular DeFi destination with attractive yield farms involving FTM, various stablecoins, or wETH like those found on SpookySwap.

How Blockchain Bridges Became Hackers’ Prime Targets - The Defiant (5)

Unlike Fantom, most L1 blockchains use an independent direct bridge to connect networks. The Avalanche bridge is mostly custodied by the Avalanche Foundation and is the largest L1<>L1 bridge. Avalanche boasts one of the most robust DeFi landscapes with dapps like Trader Joe, Aave, Curve, and Platypus Finance.

The Binance bridge also stands out with $4.5 billion in assets locked, followed closely by Solana Wormhole with $3.8 billion. Terra’s Shuttle Bridge secures only $1.4 billion despite being the second-largest blockchain in terms of TVL.

Similarly, scaling solutions like Polygon, Arbitrum, and Optimism are also among the most significant bridges in terms of assets locked. The Polygon POS Bridge, the main entry point between Ethereum and its sidechain, is the third-largest bridge with almost $6 billion custodied. Meanwhile, the liquidity in the bridges of popular L2 platforms such as Arbitrum and Optimism is also on the rise.

Another bridge worth mentioning is the Near Rainbow bridge, which aims to solve the famous interoperability trilemma. This platform that connects Near and Aurora with Ethereum may present a valuable opportunity to achieve security in trustless bridges.

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Improving Cross-Chain Security

Both trusted and trustless bridges, the two approaches to custody bridged assets, are prone to fundamental and technical weaknesses. Still, there are ways to prevent and diminish the impact caused by malicious attackers targeting blockchain bridges.

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In the case of trusted bridges, it is clear that increasing the ratio of signers required is needed, while also keeping multisigs distributed into different wallets. And even though trustless bridges remove the risks related to centralization, bugs and other technical constraints present risky situations, as shown by the Solana Wormhole or the Qubit Finance exploits. Thus, it is necessary to implement off-chain actions to protect cross-chain platforms as much as possible.

Cooperation between protocols is needed. The Web3 space is characterized by its bonded community, so having the brightest minds in the industry working together to make the space a more secure place would be the perfect scenario. Animoca Brands, Binance, and other Web3 brands raised $150 million to help Sky Mavis diminish the financial impact of the Ronin’s bridge hack. Working together for a multichain future can push interoperability to the next level.

Likewise, coordination with chain analytics platforms and centralized exchanges (CEXs) should help trace and flag stolen tokens. This condition might disincentivize criminals in the mid-term, as the gateway to cash out crypto for fiat should be controlled by KYC procedures in established CEXs. Last month, a couple of 20 year olds were legally sanctioned after scamming people in the NFT space. It is fair to ask for the same treatment for identified hackers.

Audits and bug bounties are another way of improving the health of any Web3 platform, including bridges. Certified organizations like Certik, Chainsafe, Blocksec, and several others help make Web3 interactions safer. All active bridges should be audited by at least one certified organization.

Meanwhile, bug bounty programs create a synergy between the project and its community. White hackers play a vital role in identifying vulnerabilities before malicious attackers do. For instance, Sky Mavis has recently launched a $1 million bug bounty program to strengthen its ecosystem.


The surge of L1 and L2 solutions as holistic blockchain ecosystems challenging Ethereum dapps have created the need for cross-chain platforms to move assets between networks. This is the essence of interoperability, one of the pillars of Web3.

Nonetheless, the current interoperable scenario relies on cross-chain protocols rather than a multichain approach, a scenario about which Vitalik eased words of caution at the start of the year. The need for interoperability in the space is more than evident. Nonetheless, more robust security measures in this type of platform are needed.

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Unfortunately, the challenge will not be overcome easily. Both trusted, and trustless platforms present flaws in their design. These inherent cross-chain flaws have become noticeable. More than 80% of the $1.2 billion lost in hacks in 2022 have come through exploited bridges.

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In addition, as the value in the industry keeps increasing, hackers are getting more sophisticated too. Traditional cyberattacks like social engineering and phishing attacks have adapted to the Web3 narrative.

The multichain approach where all token versions are native to each blockchain is still far away. Therefore, cross-chain platforms must learn from previous events and strengthen their processes to reduce the number of successful attacks as much as possible.


How are blockchain bridges hacked? ›

False Deposit Events: Often, a cross-chain bridge will monitor for deposit events on one blockchain to initiate a transfer to the other. If an attacker can generate a deposit event without making a real deposit or by making a deposit with a valueless token, then they can withdraw value from the bridge at the other end.

How do blockchain bridges work? ›

The blockchain bridge by Binance serves as a bidirectional bridge between Ethereum and the main Binance chain. It also utilizes specific features of the Ethereum-compatible BNB Smart Chain for wrapping token assets. Therefore, it can help in transferring assets to Ethereum from Binance.

Has blockchain technology been hacked? ›

Security Concerns of Bitcoin

Bitcoin's blockchain has never been hacked, and zero counterfeit currency has ever been uttered on the network. As with any software, Bitcoin is not perfect or infallible.

What is blockchain bridging? ›

A blockchain bridge is a connection that enables the transfer of tokens or other data from one chain to another. Blockchain bridges are designed as a solution to limited interoperability, which is one of the main challenges that blockchain technology faces today.

What are the challenges faced by hacker in blockchain? ›

51% attacks, in which hackers acquire more than half of the network's computational power, are an issue that has plagued many blockchain systems. They exploit an inherent loophole in decentralized systems, allowing users to control a chain by controlling over 51% of the processing power.

What happens if blockchain gets hacked? ›

If the attacker has more than 50% of the processing power, they will have the longest transactional history. This means that their incorrect blocks will be the valid ones. Smaller networks are especially vulnerable to a 51% Attack. If trust is lost in a network, then the currency might crash.

What are the 3 most important components for a blockchain? ›

Key elements of a blockchain
  1. Distributed ledger technology. All network participants have access to the distributed ledger and its immutable record of transactions. ...
  2. Immutable records. No participant can change or tamper with a transaction after it's been recorded to the shared ledger. ...
  3. Smart contracts.
23 Jun 2022

How blockchain works in 7 steps? ›

What on earth is Blockchain?
  1. Step 1 — Transaction data. ...
  2. Step 2 — Chaining the blocks (with a hash) ...
  3. Step 3 — How the signature (hash) is created. ...
  4. Step 4 — When does the signature qualify, and who signs a block? ...
  5. Step 5 — How does this make the blockchain immutable? ...
  6. Step 6 — How is the blockchain governed?

Why Blockchains can be hacked? ›

The concepts behind blockchain technology make it nearly impossible to hack into a blockchain. However, there are weaknesses outside of the blockchain that create opportunities for thieves. Hackers can gain access to cryptocurrency owners' cryptocurrency wallets and exchange accounts to steal crypto.

Why is it hard to hack blockchain? ›

Blockchain was designed to be secure.

Conceptually, blockchain's design makes it impervious to compromise. Each block, or data record, is digitally signed with a 'hash' – the result of a mathematical algorithm – that is based on the contents of the record and every other record in the blockchain.

What are the risks of blockchain technology? ›

Right now, there are three major new risks for enterprise blockchain and smart contract deployments: old software, software flaws and operational flaws. Hang on a minute. These are the same risks we've been dealing with in computing for 50 years.

What is the function of bridging? ›

This function is called network bridging. Bridging is distinct from routing. Routing allows multiple networks to communicate independently and yet remain separate, whereas bridging connects two separate networks as if they were a single network. In the OSI model, bridging is performed in the data link layer (layer 2).

Why is bridging used? ›

This exercise is particularly useful for facilitating pelvic motions and strengthening the low back and hip extensors, and it enhances motor control of the lumbo-pelvic region.

Why is bridging important? ›

Bridging simply gives space to the body by working the underused muscles and stretching out the overused muscles. This allows the body to have more room to function with ease. Along with your basic fitness goal of looking good, remember that bridging also makes you feel good.

What is the biggest problem with blockchain? ›


The redundancy of blockchains makes them hard to scale. Every device in your network must have a copy of every transaction made, right from the genesis block to the most recent transaction. That means hundreds of copies of the same data!

What are the primary problems that blockchain technology attempts to solve? ›

One thing is certain now: blockchain has the potential to solve the acute issues of data storage and security, transactions processing and intermediaries, supply chains, intellectual property, government operations, charity, voting, and crowdfunding.

What is the most secure blockchain? ›

Ethereum. Ethereum is the best secure block chain based secure crypto currency platform. I helps to develop secure transparent crypto currency solutions for our customers.

Is it possible to corrupt a blockchain? ›

Once data is stored on the blockchain it cannot be manipulated or changed illegitimately. Increased data security due to data being stored on distributed ledgers.

Is blockchain security unbreakable? ›

Blockchain is widely viewed as unbreakable because advanced cryptographic techniques are used to encode the data and ensure that it is not altered. But there are vulnerabilities to be exploited.

What are cross-chain bridges and why do they matter? ›

Cross-chain bridges are software applications that enable transactions to occur between various blockchains. If someone wants to transfer cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), or other digital assets between blockchain networks, cross-chain bridges are an essential part of the process.

What is the best crypto bridge? ›

Best Crypto Bridges in the DeFi Industry
  • Portal Token Bridge (formerly Wormhole) Portal is one of the most popular cross-chain bridges in the industry. ...
  • Binance Bridge. ...
  • Avalanche Bridge. ...
  • Tezos Wrap Protocol Bridge. ...
  • Synapse Bridge. ...
  • Bitcoin Cash SmartBCH Bridge. ...
  • Fantom AnySwap Bridge. ...
  • Ronin.
9 May 2022

What are the two main blockchain networks? ›

Usually, such networks offer economic incentives for those who secure them and utilize some type of a Proof of Stake or Proof of Work algorithm. Some of the largest, most known public blockchains are the bitcoin blockchain and the Ethereum blockchain.

What is the biggest blockchain company? ›

  • #1 Coinbase Global Inc. ( COIN)
  • #2 Monex Group Inc. ( MNXBF)
  • #3 BIT Mining Ltd. ( BTCM)
  • #4 Canaan Inc. ( CAN)
  • #5 Voyager Digital Ltd. ( VYGVF)
  • #6 SOS Ltd. ( SOS)
  • #7 HIVE.
  • #8 Silvergate Capital Corp. ( SI)

What is the main concept of blockchain? ›

Blockchain overview. Blockchain defined: Blockchain is a shared, immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording transactions and tracking assets in a business network. An asset can be tangible (a house, car, cash, land) or intangible (intellectual property, patents, copyrights, branding).

What are 3 reasons that hackers hack? ›

Some common reasons for hacking include basic bragging rights, curiosity, revenge, boredom, challenge, theft for financial gain, sabotage, vandalism, corporate espionage, blackmail, and extortion. Hackers are known to regularly cite these reasons to explain their behavior.

What are the causes of getting hacked? ›

8 Most Common Causes of Data Breach
  • Weak and Stolen Credentials, a.k.a. Passwords. ...
  • Back Doors, Application Vulnerabilities. ...
  • Malware. ...
  • Social Engineering. ...
  • Too Many Permissions. ...
  • Insider Threats. ...
  • Physical Attacks. ...
  • Improper Configuration, User Error.

Why is Bitcoin Unhackable? ›

Are cryptocurrencuies hackable? There is a lot of variation in the workings of different cryptocurrencies, but the cryptography behind many coins – including bitcoin – is based on the SHA-256 algorithm designed by the US National Security Agency. Cracking this to steal currency is all but impossible.

How does blockchain ensure security? ›

Blockchain technology's data structures have inherent security qualities because they are based on consensus, cryptography, and decentralization principles. Each new block of information connects to all the previous blocks in a way that it's nearly impossible to tamper with.

Can a blockchain be deleted? ›

Above all else, blockchains are known for being immutable. This means that any data that has been verified and added to a block cannot be altered or deleted. Think of every block as a stone carving, wherein you can't simply hit the delete button on the data. Once the data is there, it's there for good.

What are three disadvantages of blockchain technology? ›

One of the notable weaknesses of blockchain is scalability, while blockchain is not indestructible. The anonymous and open nature of blockchains is not an asset, and proof of work is overkill. Lastly, blockchain can lead to complexity, and it can also be horribly inefficient.

What are the 3 main components of a bridge? ›

The main components of a bridge are the foundation, substructure, and the superstructure.

What are the 4 main components of a bridge? ›

FOllowings are the main parts of a bridge:
  • Deck.
  • Abutment.
  • Pile.
  • Pier.
  • Girder.
  • Rail Track.

What are three important functions provided by a bridge? ›

Bridges provide three main functions: (1) creating a bridging table to keep track of devices on each segment, (2) filtering packets based on their MAC addresses, i.e., forwarding packets whose destination MAC address is on a different segment of the network from their source and removing packets that do not need to be ...

What are the 3 types of bridges and what do they do? ›

beam bridge: A bridge that consists of beams supported by columns (piers, towers). cable: A very strong rope made of strands of metal wire, as used to support cable cars or suspension bridges. cable-stayed bridge: A bridge that consists of one or more towers (or columns) with cables supporting the bridge deck.

What makes the bridge strong? ›

Trusses help a bridge spread out the weight that it has to carry. But not all bridges are made of trusses. If a bridge has to cross a really wide body of water, it might be too difficult or expensive to build a truss bridge. So engineers designed another kind of bridge called a suspension bridge.

What are the Top 5 reasons bridges fail? ›

The top 5 leading causes are design errors, construction mistakes, hydraulic, collision, and overload. There were a few bridge failures caused by the earthquake due to a lack of statistical data in those investigations.

What are 3 things that a bridge must overcome? ›

Forces that Act on Bridges
  • Compression.
  • Tension.
  • Torsion.
3 Dec 2021

What would happen if there is no bridge? ›

If there were no bridge, it would be very difficult to cross the river, valleys, mountains or irregular roads. Crossing them would have consumed a lot of time and would be risky too.

How was the Ronin Bridge hacked? ›

The attack began when the Lazarus Group gained access to five of the nine private keys held by transaction validators for Ronin Network's cross-chain bridge. They used this majority to approve two transactions, both withdrawals: one for 173,600 ether (ETH) and the other for 25.5 million USD Coin (USDC).

How are Bitcoin blocks chained together? ›

Blocks have certain storage capacities and, when filled, are closed and linked to the previously filled block, forming a chain of data known as the blockchain. All new information that follows that freshly added block is compiled into a newly formed block that will then also be added to the chain once filled.

How did wormhole get hacked? ›

The hacker appears to have found an exploit in Wormhole's smart contract code that allowed them to mint 120,000 Wrapped Ethereum on Solana (WeETH) without putting up the necessary equivalent Ethereum collateral.

What happens when a crypto bridges? ›

A blockchain bridge, otherwise known as a cross-chain bridge, connects two blockchains and allows users to send cryptocurrency from one chain to the other. Basically, if you have bitcoin but want to spend it like Ethereum, you can do that through the bridge.

Who was behind the ronin hack? ›

North Korea's Lazarus Group Identified as Exploiters Behind $540 Million Ronin Bridge Heist.

What is the largest hack in history? ›

In 2013, a hack compromised three billion Yahoo accounts, including names, security questions, passwords and contact details. To make matters worse, the hack repeated itself in 2014, with another 500 million accounts hacked. Yahoo has won the title of the largest single entity to be hacked in internet history.

Who created the first hack? ›

The first major hacking came in 1971, by a vietnam vet named John Draper. He figured out a way to make free phone calls. This was later called "Phreaking".

What happens if two blocks are mined at the same time on ethereum? ›

"Accidental fork happens when two or more miners find a block at nearly the same time. The fork is resolved when subsequent block(s) are added and one of the chains becomes longer than the alternative(s). The network abandons the blocks that are not in the longest chain (they are called orphaned blocks)."

What happens if two blocks are solved at the same time? ›

An orphan block is a block that has been solved within the blockchain network but was not accepted by the network. There can be two miners who solve valid blocks simultaneously. The network uses both blocks until one chain has more verified blocks. Then, the blocks in the shorter chain are orphaned.

Who first hacked NASA? ›

Arrest, conviction and sentencing

James was sentenced to seven months house arrest and probation until the age of eighteen and was required to write letters of apology to NASA and the Department of Defense. He was also banned from using computers for recreational purposes.

Who is the first person who hacked NASA? ›

Alleged crime

McKinnon was accused of hacking into 97 United States military and NASA computers over a 13-month period between February 2001 and March 2002, at the house of his girlfriend's aunt in London, using the name 'Solo'.

Can humans create wormholes? ›

It may be possible to build a real, traversable wormhole, but only if our universe has extra dimensions, a team of physicists has found.

What is the best bridge for crypto? ›

Best Crypto Bridges in the DeFi Industry
  • Portal Token Bridge (formerly Wormhole) Portal is one of the most popular cross-chain bridges in the industry. ...
  • Binance Bridge. ...
  • Avalanche Bridge. ...
  • Tezos Wrap Protocol Bridge. ...
  • Synapse Bridge. ...
  • Bitcoin Cash SmartBCH Bridge. ...
  • Fantom AnySwap Bridge. ...
  • Ronin.
9 May 2022

What is the difference between a bridge and a router crypto? ›

The key difference between a bridge and router is a bridge sees the two networks as a single entity and a router sees two networks as discrete entities.

Are crypto bridges centralized? ›

Multichain bridges or cross-chain crypto bridges are decentralized applications that enable the transfer of assets and, in some cases, arbitrary information, between different blockchains. Essentially, they are blockchain communication protocols.


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