The United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned virtual currency mixer Tornado Cash, which it says has been used to launder more than $7 billion worth of virtual currency since its creation in 2019.
OFAC in a statement said the laundering included over $455 million stolen by the Lazarus Group, a Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) state-sponsored hacking group that was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2019, in the largest known virtual currency heist to date.
"Tornado Cash was subsequently used to launder more than $96 million of malicious cyber actors’ funds derived from the June 24, 2022, Harmony Bridge Heist, and at least $7.8 million from the August 2, 2022 Nomad Heist. Today’s action is being taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13694, as amended, and follows OFAC’s May 6, 2022 designation of virtual currency mixer Blender.io (Blender)," the release said.
“Today, Treasury is sanctioning Tornado Cash, a virtual currency mixer that launders the proceeds of cybercrimes, including those committed against victims in the United States,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson.
“Despite public assurances otherwise, Tornado Cash has repeatedly failed to impose effective controls designed to stop it from laundering funds for malicious cyber actors on a regular basis and without basic measures to address its risks. Treasury will continue to aggressively pursue actions against mixers that launder virtual currency for criminals and those who assist them.”
Crypto mixing is akin to shuffling digital currencies through a black box, blending a certain quantity of cryptocurrency in private pools before transferring it to its designated receivers for a fee. The aim is to make transactions anonymous and difficult to trace.
As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the entity above, Tornado Cash, that is in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons is blocked and must be reported to OFAC.
In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. All transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons are prohibited unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or exempt.
These prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person and the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.
Tornado Cash (Tornado) is a virtual currency mixer that operates on the Ethereum blockchain and indiscriminately facilitates anonymous transactions by obfuscating their origin, destination, and counterparties, with no attempt to determine their origin.
Tornado receives a variety of transactions and mixes them together before transmitting them to their individual recipients. While the purported purpose is to increase privacy, mixers like Tornado are commonly used by illicit actors to launder funds, especially those stolen during significant heists.