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Lazarus Group transfers $1.2M worth of Bitcoin via crypto mixer

North Korean hacking group Lazarus Group recently moved $1.28 million worth of Bitcoin (BTC) via a cryptocurrency mixer, marking the group’s largest transaction in over a month.

The transaction of 27,371 BTC came from two mixer withdrawals before sending 3.34 BTC — worth approximately $150,000 — to a previously used wallet, as reported by blockchain intelligence firm Arkham. The incident occurred after Bitcoin rebounded past $43,000.

This wallet, according to Arkham, holds $79 million worth of cryptocurrencies — including $73 million in Bitcoin and $3.4 million in Ether. Arkham’s tracking dashboard revealed the group stashed over $82 million collectively across its monitored wallets.

Lazarus Group has been known to use crypto mixers in its operations, making it challenging for authorities to track its funds. A crypto mixer is a protocol that obscures wallet addresses by blending the tokens of many users. It can hide the origin and owners of the funds.

The cybercrime group’s hacking activity aligns with the recent crypto market swings, signaling new theft campaigns to make use of market volatility and increased flows. The transfer may also merely reflect a periodic liquidation of the stolen Bitcoin stocks.

In addition to the crypto market swings, Bitcoin’s popularity has created an opportunity for Lazarus to pursue this token, which has bounced off $47,000 with daily trading reaching over $41 billion.

The timing also coincides with the upcoming approval of spot Bitcoin ETF from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Bloomberg analysts outlined that a 95 percent chance of approval has enhanced the BTC price, as seen in the latest development. This increase also led to a 4.45 percent increase in the global crypto market capitalization.

Lazarus Group’s hacking attacks

Lazarus Group has been responsible for stealing $3 billion in cryptocurrencies between 2017 and 2023, according to Recorded Future’s cybersecurity report. The group is linked to a massive cryptocurrency heist of the Ronin Bridge, which is a component to transfer assets to the game online Axie Infinity, according to the U.S. Treasury.

The Ronin Bridge hack in 2022 caused a total of $600 million loss in Ethereum and USDC for Axie Infinity, a game developed by Vietnam-based company Sky Mavis. This hack has been noted as the biggest hack attack in crypto history.

Moreover, blockchain intelligence firm TRM Labs revealed one-third of all cryptocurrency hacks and heists in 2023 were associated with Lazarus Group. In total, these various hacking attacks caused a $700 million loss in 2023. Lazarus Group reportedly, used innovative ways, including fake job offers and impersonating well-known venture capitalists, to reach their targets.

Metamask developer Taylor Monahan also noticed a similar pattern in Lazarus’ recent Orbit attack, which caused a loss of $81 million.

Legal actions

TRM Labs’ research report in 2023 highlighted that law enforcement agencies around the world have stepped up their efforts against cybercrime in the area of digital currencies. They increased the chances of detection and prosecution to decline the potential hacking attacks, including collaborative actions, quick responses and better asset recovery tactics.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) responded to the Ronin Bridge hack, by handing out sanctions crypto mixer Blender.io, which was reportedly being used during the Ronin Bridge incident. OFAC has also sanctioned Tornado Cash and certain individuals for their association with Lazarus Group.

In Europe, authorities have also made attempts to clamp down on crypto mixers and privacy wallets. Based on the European Union’s Market in Crypto Assets (MiCA) — set to be effective this year — companies that offer crypto services must be authorized by one of the EU’s 27 national financial regulators. The regulation is the first major jurisdiction to introduce comprehensive and tailored rules in the world.

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