Axie Infinity: The US is linking North Korean hacking group Lazarus to a major crypto heist

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The U.S. has linked North Korean hackers to stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency linked to popular online game Axie Infinity, the U.S. Treasury Department said on Thursday.

Ronin, a blockchain network that allows users to transfer crypto in and out of the game, said nearly $615 million (around Rs. 4,710 million) worth of digital cash was stolen on March 23.

No one has specifically assigned blame for the hack, but on Thursday the US Treasury Department identified a digital currency address used by the hackers as being under the control of a North Korean hacking group often referred to as “Lazarus.”

“The United States is aware that the DPRK is increasingly relying on illegal activities — including cybercrime — to generate revenue for its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs while attempting to circumvent stringent U.S. and UN sanctions,” said a spokesman for the Treasury Department. using the initials of North Korea’s official name.

The spokesman warned that those who trade the wallet risk facing US sanctions.

Blockchain analytics firms like Chainalysis and Elliptic said the naming confirmed North Korea was behind the slump.

A person familiar with the matter confirmed that North Korean hackers have been the focus of the cybersecurity firm’s investigations in recent weeks.

CrowdStrike, hired by Sky Mavis to investigate the breach, also declined to comment.

Aleksander Larsen, the co-founder of Sky Mavis, the maker of Axie Infinity, declined to comment.

A post on the official Ronin blog said that the FBI attributed the hack to the Lazarus group and that the US Treasury sanctioned the address that received the stolen funds.

The United States says the Lazarus hacker group is controlled by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s main intelligence bureau. He is accused of involvement in the WannaCry ransomware attacks, hacking of international banks and customer accounts, and cyber attacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014.

The United States is urging the UN Security Council to blacklist the Lazarus Group and freeze its assets, according to a draft resolution reviewed by Reuters on Wednesday.

Hacks have long plagued crypto platforms. The Ronin hack was one of the biggest cryptocurrency heists of all time.

Sky Mavis said it would use a combination of its own balance sheet funds and $150 million (about Rs.1,148 billion) raised by investors like Binance to reimburse the lost money.

“We are still in the process of adding additional security measures before redeploying the Ronin Bridge to mitigate future risks,” the Ronin blog reads. “Expect the bridge to be deployed by the end of the month.”

The Treasury Department spokesman said Washington will seek to release crypto cybersecurity guidelines to help efforts to protect against stolen virtual currency.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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