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NEW YORK: The United States announced sanctions Friday on virtual currency mixer Blender.io, saying the service was used by a North Korean cyber hacking group to support weapons programs, the Treasury Department said.

US officials said the case marks the first US sanctions on a virtual currency “mixer,” which is used to conceal participants in transactions involving Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Officials said the Lazarus Group, a North Korean-backed cyber hacking group, stole $620 million from the online game Axie Infinity, employing Blender to process over $20.5 million of the illicit funds.

Blender was used by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) “to support its malicious cyber activities and money-laundering of stolen virtual currency,” said the Treasury Department.

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“Under the pressure of robust US and UN sanctions, the DPRK has resorted to illicit activities, including cyber-enabled heists from cryptocurrency exchanges and financial institutions, to generate revenue for its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.”

“While the purported purpose is to increase privacy, mixers like Blender are commonly used by illicit actors,” said the Treasury Department.

Blender has been used to transfer more than $500 million worth of Bitcoin since 2109. Besides aiding the DPRK, Treasury officials also found the service supported Russian-linked malign ransomware groups.

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