The US is ramping up its efforts to crack down on shady cryptocurrency mixers. The Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on Tornado Cash, a mixer that allegedly helped launder more than $7 billion in stolen crypto funds since its inception in 2019. Like a previous sanctions target, Blender, Tornado Cash is accused of “indiscriminately” helping thieves by hiding transaction details while failing to institute meaningful anti-laundering safeguards. North Korea’s state-sponsored Lazarus Group hackers are believed to have funnelled $455 million through the mixer.
The sanctions block transactions with or for the benefit of Tornado Cash-related individuals and entities, whether they’re located in the US or controlled by Americans. Anyone who detects banned activity is required to inform the Treasury’s Offices of Foreign Assets Control.
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Tornado Cash runs on the Ethereum blockchain. Officials said the mixer played a role in other large-scale thefts, including the Harmony Bridge heist (where it laundered $96 million) from June and this month’s Nomad attack (involving “at least” $7.8 million).
The government has taken legal action against crypto mixers for years. Federal law enforcement charged an Ohio man in 2020 for running a darknet mixer that helped criminals launder $300 million. The Treasury only started sanctioning mixers when it blocked Blender this May, however. The US now believes criminal-friendly mixers are a national security threat and hopes efforts like these will curb both terrorisms as well as attempts to dodge conventional sanctions.