Federal Government Freezes $30 Million In Cryptocurrency Stolen From Axie Infinity

Federal investigators and private companies have seized $30 million in cryptocurrency stolen in March by North Korean gang APT Lazarus Group from a video game developer, the latest example of the growing skills of government and cybersecurity experts to track and recoup those ill-gotten gains.

News of the seizure was announced this week during AxieCon, the user conference for Axie Infinity, the video game developed by Sky Mavis that allows players to earn Ethereum. In March, Sky Mavis saw the Lazarus Group steal $620 million from a decentralized finance (DeFi) platform used by the game and launder most of it.

Although the money recovered is only a fraction of what was stolen, it shows that it is increasingly difficult for cybercriminals to hide stolen crypto from government and private investigators, according to Erin Plante, director Leading investigations by blockchain research firm Chainalysis, one of the players was instrumental in finding and recovering the money.

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Plante also said she expects more stolen money to be recovered by North Korean groups.

“We’ve proven that with the right blockchain analysis tools, world-class investigators and compliance professionals can be effective in stopping even the most sophisticated hackers and launderers,” she wrote in a post. blog post. “There is still work to be done, but this is an important step in our efforts to make the cryptocurrency ecosystem more secure.”

News of the crypto recovery comes less than two months after the US Department of Justice and the FBI announced that they had seized approximately $500,000 that healthcare institutions in the US attributed to the ransomware group. Maui, another North Korean state-sponsored cyber crew.

The United States has aggressively targeted threat groups linked to North Korea — which use stolen cryptocurrencies to hurt sanctions and fund its defense programs — and software that helps launder stolen money, such as crypto issuers like Tornado Cash.

Anatomy of a Massive Heist

In the Axie Infinity case, crooks from the Lazarus Group gained access to five of the nine private keys used by transaction validators for Ronin Network, an Ethereum-based DeFi platform used by the game developer. With this access, the group approved two crypto transactions of 173,600 Ether and 25.5 million USD in Coin, according to Plante.

Much of the money was laundered through Tornado Cash, an Ethereum-based crypto product that processes large numbers of transactions, obscuring the origin, destination, and involved parties of the currency. In this case, Ether was mixed in batches, exchanged for Bitcoin, which in turn was mixed in batches and deposited on crypto-fiat services to be cashed out.

Last month, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Tornado Cash for laundering more than $455 million stolen from the Lazarus Group. Three months earlier, the Treasury imposed similar sanctions on Blender, another crypto issuer.

Action and reaction

After the Tornado Cash sanctions, Lazarus Group shifted much of its laundering efforts to “DeFi services to chain jumps or switch between multiple types of cryptocurrencies in a single transaction,” Plante writes. “Bridges perform an important function for moving digital assets between chains and most use of these platforms is entirely legitimate. Lazarus appears to be using bridges in an attempt to obfuscate the source of the funds.

The inherent transparency of crypto is key to investigating cases like Axie Infinity, including seeing how money moves and is white, she wrote, which is much harder to do with traditional financial channels, which may involve front companies and financial institutions around the world. world.

This comes as DeFi platforms are regularly targeted by entities such as Lazarus Group. According to Chainalysis, cybercriminals stole $1.68 billion in cryptocurrencies in the first four months of the year, more than 95% of which was diverted from DeFi platforms.

North Korean bands in August grossed at least $840 million this year. This includes $100 million taken from the Harmony blockchain network, another theft attributed to the Lazarus Group.

The United States pushed back, offering rewards of up to $10 million for information on cyber crooks linked to North Korea and charging suspected members of Lazarus. Additionally, Dutch authorities last month arrested a 29-year-old developer suspected of having links to the group.

In the Axie Infinity case, while authorities seized the $30 million in crypto, it could be some time before Sky Mavis gets her money back. The company’s co-founder, Aleksander Leonard Larsen, told CNN that law enforcement officials froze the money and none have yet been returned.

“We expect it will take some time until the community recovers the funds,” he told the outlet. “Also note that all user funds have been refunded.” ®

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Federal Government Freezes $30 Million In Cryptocurrency Stolen From Axie Infinity

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