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US recovers more than $30M in cryptocurrency from North Korean hackers

A U.S. firm announced on Thursday that it worked alongside law enforcement to recover more than $30 million worth of cryptocurrency that North Korean hackers stole earlier this year.

Chainalysis said the seized funds represent about 10 percent of the current value of the stolen cryptocurrency, which totaled about $620 million at the time it was stolen in March.

“This marks the first time ever that cryptocurrency stolen by a North Korean hacking group has been seized, and we’re confident it won’t be the last,” the firm said in a statement.

Lazarus Group, a cybercrime organization associated with the North Korean government, stole the funds from players of the virtual pay-to-play game Axie Infinity. In the game, players use blockchain technology to purchase digital monsters, which are nonfungible tokens (NFT), and battle them against others.

The total stolen funds comprised 173,600 ethereum and 25.5M USDC, a cryptocurrency linked to the U.S. dollar.

Chainalysis called the theft “highly sophisticated,” noting that the hackers leveraged more than 12,000 different crypto addresses to date to launder the funds. The hackers initially retrieved the funds by breaking into the Ronin Network, which essentially transfers cryptocurrency in and out of the game.

The Treasury Department has taken aim at cryptocurrency thefts by imposing sanctions last month against cryptocurrency mixer Tornado Cash. The group aided North Korean hacking groups and others to launder stolen funds, according to the department.

The department also sanctioned Lazarus Group after the FBI confirmed the hack in the spring. The group is also known by other names, like “APT-C-26,” “Appleworm,” “Red Dot” and “Hidden Cobra.”

“We have proven that with the right blockchain analysis tools, world-class investigators and compliance professionals can collaborate to stop even the most sophisticated hackers and launderers,” Chainalysis said in its statement. “There is still work to be done, but this is a milestone in our efforts to make the cryptocurrency ecosystem safer.”

The Hill has reached out to the FBI and Justice Department for comment.

Federal investigators have on multiple occasions seized stolen cryptocurrency as the technology becomes more prominent.

The Secret Service reportedly seized more than $100 million in cryptocurrency between 2015 and April of this year to combat fraudulent activity.

Federal agencies earlier that month issued a joint advisory that warned about the rising threats involving cryptocurrency.

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