Norwegian police (Økokrim) have seized 60 million kroner ($5,800,000) worth of cryptocurrency stolen by the North Korean Lazarus hacking group last year from Axie Infinity’s Ronin Bridge.
This action is the largest financial seizure of this kind to take place in Norway, made possible thanks to the money-tracing capabilities and persistence of Økokrim’s investigators.
“Økokrim is good at following money,” stated a machine-translated statement from First Attorney Marianne Bender.
“This case shows that we also have a great capacity to follow the money on the blockchain, even though the criminals use advanced [hiding] methods.”
The seized cryptocurrency was stolen from Sky Mavis, the publisher of the blockchain-based game Axie Infinity, which suffered losses of $620 million in March 2022 after an attacker manipulated the game’s Ronin bridge to gain partial control of its validators and perform two unauthorized transactions.
The FBI linked the attack to the North Korean Lazarus hackers in April 2022. However, a few months later, the initial intrusion method was revealed to be a fake job offer targeting a Sky Mavis employee, a common method employed by Lazarus.
In September 2022, the FBI, with the help of blockchain experts, seized $30,000,000 worth of cryptocurrency stolen during the attack. While the amount represented only 10% of the stolen cryptocurrency (and 5% of its value), the authorities promised that more seizures would follow.
Indeed, Økokrim says it collaborated with international partners to achieve this seizure, including FBI agents specializing in tracing cryptocurrency transactions.
“These are funds that can support North Korea and its nuclear weapons program. It has therefore been important to trace the cryptocurrency and try to stop the money when they try to convert it into physical assets.” – M. Bender (machine translated)
The seized funds will be returned to Sky Mavis, and from there, it will be used for partial victim reimbursement.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go to retrieve the total stolen amount, but this new seizure is undoubtedly another blow for Lazarus and North Korea.