US Revamps Sanctions on Tornado Cash in Bid to Turn Screw on North Korea

US Revamps Sanctions on Tornado Cash in Bid to Turn Screw on North Korea

Source: Lukas/Adobe

The American government has refined its sanctions on the ethereum (ETH) mixing service Tornado Cash – in a fresh round of measures aimed at targeting North Korea.

In a press release, the American Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) explained that it had “delisted and simultaneously redesignated Tornado Cash.” It said the decision was made after “taking into account” what it called “additional information” about Tornado Cash “regarding its support for [North Korean] activities.”

OFAC claims that Tornado Cash “obfuscated the movement of over $455 million stolen in March 2022” by the Pyongyang-based Lazarus hacking group. It termed the attack “the largest known virtual currency heist to date.”

OFAC further claimed that it had not “designated Tornado Cash’s individual founders, developers, members of the DAO, or users, or other persons involved in supporting Tornado Cash at this time.” This follows widespread criticism of the government’s initial move to sanction the open-source service in August this year.

Brian E. Nelson, the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, was quoted as stating that the new sanctions targeted “key nodes” of the North’s “weapons programs.” Nelson said Pyongyang had developed an “increasing reliance on illicit activities, including cybercrime, to generate revenue.”

North Korea Sanctions: What Next After Tornado Cash?

Reports from both South Korea and Japan have stated that Pyongyang-based groups like Lazarus have been targeting a range of crypto-related targets.

Some claim that hackers based in the North are using social media as a tool to launch social engineering attacks and compromise passwords. UN officials have backed such claims, and have accused Lazarus of a range of crypto-related hacks.

OFAC also issued sanctions against officials at Air Koryo, the North Korean national carrier. The agency accused the officials of helping bring weapons-related materials into the country.

The North appears to have responded to the latest round of sanctions – as well as increasingly poor relations with the South Korean government (as well as the United States midterm elections – with another missile launch.

Reuters, quoting the South Korean military, reported that the North had launched a ballistic missile into the sea near the two nations. Sailors said they had “identified debris from an earlier launch as part of a Soviet-era SA-5 surface-to-air missile.”

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