As confirmed in a statement released by the FBI on 14 April 2022, the theft of around $620 million in Ethereum on 19 March 2022 has been linked to Lazarus Group and APT38–cyber actors associated with the Democratic Republic of North Korea. The theft occurred when Axie Infinity–a video game that allows players to earn cryptocurrency was hacked.
Ethereum is a community-run technology that enables access to the cryptocurrency ‘ether’ (ETH). It is the world’s second most popular cryptocurrency after Bitcoin. Ethereum provides users with access to centralised exchanges where people can trade crypto using traditional currencies or decentralised exchanges where people can control exchanges between peers.
The attractiveness of Ethereum is that it is not controlled by the government or companies–allowing anyone to use it. Because of this, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies are popular with organised crime, child exploitation and ‘rogue nations’ such as North Korea.
It is believed the heist is part of a carefully thought out plan that included a slow money laundering process to cover up the theft.
In response to the theft, the US Treasury Department reportedly sanctioned Lazarus Group’s Ethereum holdings for what they described as “essentially bank robbery at the speed of the internet”.
According to a CNN report, North Korea relies on hackers such as these to help fund domestic programs due to ongoing heavy sanctions impacting the country. It is believed further crypto heists such as the one at Axie Infinity will become more common as the popularity of cryptocurrency increases.