US authorities claimed Thursday that hackers linked to North Korea were behind a $620 million cryptocurrency robbery last month that targeted users of the popular Axie Infinity game.
The theft of about $320 million from the producers of Axie Infinity, a game where users may earn crypto through game play or trade their avatars, happened just weeks after a similar attack.
The attack was one of the most significant in the crypto world, raising serious concerns about security in an industry that has only lately gained popular attention because to celebrity endorsements and promises of enormous riches.
“Through our investigations we were able to confirm Lazarus Group and APT38, cyber actors associated with (North Korea), are responsible for the theft,” the FBI said in a statement.
North Korea’s cyber-program dates back to at least the mid-1990s, but has since grown to a 6,000-strong cyber-warfare unit, known as Bureau 121, that operates from several countries including Belarus, China, India, Malaysia and Russia, according to a 2020 US military report.
Lazarus Group gained notoriety in 2014 when it was accused of hacking into Sony Pictures Entertainment as revenge for “The Interview,” a satirical film that mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
John Bambenek, a threat analyst with digital security firm Netenrich, said North Korea is “unique” in employing groups dedicated to cryptocurrency theft.
“As North Korea is highly-sanctioned, cryptocurrency thefts are also a national security interest for them,” he said.
North Korean hackers stole around $400 million-worth of cryptocurrency through cyberattacks on digital currency outlets last year, blockchain data platform Chainalysis said in January. In the case of the Axie Infinity heist, attackers exploited weaknesses in the set-up put in place by the Vietnam-based firm behind the game, Sky Mavis.
The company had to solve a problem: the ethereum blockchain, where transactions in the ether cryptocurrency are logged, is relatively slow and expensive to use. To allow Axie Infinity players to buy and sell at speed, the firm created an in-game currency and a sidechain with a bridge to the main ethereum blockchain.
The result was faster and cheaper — but ultimately less secure.
- Axie Infinity Crypto Theft Attributed to North Korean Hackers
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