The US on Friday imposed sanctions on Blender, accusing it of being involved in one of the largest cryptocurrency heists on record and being used by North Korea, the US Department of the Treasury said.
Blender.io is a virtual currency mixer that operates on the bitcoin blockchain and, according to Treasury officials, facilitates illicit transactions by obfuscating their origin, destination, and counterparties.
Blender receives a variety of transactions and mixes them together before transmitting them to their ultimate destinations. The idea, according to Blender, is to increase privacy, but the US argues that the service commonly used by “illicit actors”.
Blender has helped transfer more than $500 million worth of bitcoin since its creation in 2017, according to the Treasury.
Used in Axie Infinity Heist
The service was used in the laundering process for North Korea’s Axie Infinity heist, processing over $20.5 million in illicit proceeds, officials said, adding that Blender also facilitated money-laundering for Russian-linked ransomware groups.
“We are taking action against illicit financial activity by North Korea,” Brian Nelson, the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
The Treasury said it was the first time the US has imposed sanctions on a virtual currency mixer. “Virtual currency mixers that assist illicit transactions pose a threat to US national security interests,” Nelson said.
North Korea has stepped up efforts to launder stolen cryptocurrency, significantly increasing its use of mixers, blockchain analytics and cybersecurity firm Chainalysis said.
- George Russell, with Reuters