North Korea Involved in $615 Million Crypto Heist, US Says

An illustration showing the North Korean flag and a computer hacker.

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US officials accuse the North Korean state-backed hacking collective of being involved in a major crypto hack that resulted in the theft of $615 million in digital assets, US officials allege.

Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Thursday announced new sanctions on ethereum wallets belonging to Lazarus.

According to crypto researchers, the wallet was identified to contain funds related to attack on the Ronin Network, which supports the popular blockchain game Axie Infinity. Over $600 million in ether and USDC tokens were stolen in the attack.

Hackers exploit what is known as a blockchain “bridge”, which allows users to transfer their digital assets from one crypto network to another. Bridges are an increasingly popular tool in the rapidly evolving world of “decentralized finance,” aka DeFi.

Blockchain analytics firm Elliptic says newly announced sanctions ban US individuals and institutions from making transactions with identified ethereum accounts to ensure that hackers cannot “withdraw” funds. any funds they may be holding with US crypto exchanges, blockchain analytics firm Elliptic said in a statement. blog post.

Chainalysis, another crypto research group, said the attribution to Lazarus highlights the importance of “how North Korea-related threat actors mine cryptocurrencies and better security for DeFi protocol.”

Lazarus, believed to be run by the North Korean state, has been implicated in several major cyberattacks over the years, including the 2014 attack on Sony Pictures and the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack.

According to cybersecurity experts, North Korea has tried to use cryptocurrencies as a way to evade US sanctions on many occasions. can use digital assets to evade Russian sanctions in the middle of the Ukraine war.

Earlier this week, Virgil Griffith, a 39-year-old American crypto expert, sentenced to five years in prison for helping North Korea use virtual currency to evade sanctions.

Proponents of cryptocurrencies say that they are an ineffective tool for money laundering, as activity is recorded on a public ledger known as the blockchain.

However, criminals have several techniques to launder cryptocurrencies, according to Elliptic. The company said internal analysis showed that Ronin’s attacks “laundered 18% of their stolen funds” as of Thursday.

Initially, the hackers exchanged the stolen USDC tokens for ether through unregulated decentralized exchanges to prevent it from being taken over, but later laundered nearly $17 million in proceeds. through centralized exchanges such as FTX and Huobi.

They then used what is known as a “mixer,” a service that aims to conceal the tracks of funds by mixing potentially identifiable crypto-currency transaction streams with others. More than $80 million has been deposited through this mixing service, called Tornado Cash, according to Elliptic.

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