The theft of 500 “hakusai” napa cabbages, worth about 150,000 yen ($1,370), was in the news late last month. The crime may have been committed systematically, with one theory saying it was the doing of several thieves who repeatedly returned to the field and used a vehicle--perhaps a truck--to haul off their loot.

This brought to mind another theft that occurred last autumn: Someone slit the bellies of salmon in their breeding pond and absconded with the roe.

In both cases, the items were in short supply, and their prices were soaring.

The same applies to the recent theft of cryptocurrency, the value of which was rising. As with the cabbages and salmon roe, there was no real protection against theft.

Coincheck Inc., the cryptocurrency exchange that lost 58 billion yen worth of NEM deposits, had insufficient protection against hackers. Its carelessness could be likened to leaving an easy-to-crack safe on a busy street.

Around the world, it is not rare for hackers to target cryptocurrency accounts.

But I was apparently wrong to think that virtual currency must have a bad rap among legitimate financial institutions.

Masashi Nakajima, a former Bank of Japan official who is currently professor at Reitaku University, noted that while virtual currency does come with inherent risks, the growing consensus among experts today is that the system that supports its circulation holds considerable promise.

“There have been thefts (of cryptocurrency) but not one case of forgery,” Nakajima pointed out. “You could perhaps say that you are dealing with a safer technology than that for printing bank notes.”

Called “blockchain,” the system may be likened to an intricate network of railway tracks. At present, the only “train” that runs on these tracks is cryptocurrency. But it is theoretically possible to eventually have the yen, U.S. dollar and even stocks running on them.

For this reason, stock exchanges and central banks around the world are scrambling to research the system.

After the Internet replaced the telephone as a means of communication, the volume of exchanged information grew exponentially.

I wonder if the blockchain system will bring that sort of transition someday in the future.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 7

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.