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Russia eclipses North Korea in murky coin mixer market

By Carine Lee

03:49, 22 July 2022

Graphic of Bitcoin mixer
North Korea’s Lazarus and Blender.io account for nearly all of the remaining funds in mixers – Photo: Shutterstock

This year Russia has eclipsed North Korea as the world’s biggest player in the murky world of coin mixers which make users' digital coins untraceable.

Russian darknet market Hydra, which was sanctioned by the US in April 2022, accounts for 50% of all funds moving to mixers from sanctioned entities this year.

An agency of the US Treasury Department, targeted Hydra due to its involvement in drug sales, money laundering, crypto thefts and ransomware attacks.

Coin mixers essentially take cryptocurrencies like ETH and BTC from users and ‘mix’ them in order to hide the owners’ identity.

BTC to US dollar

North Korea may not be the number one any more but it is still a major player, according to a Chainalysis report published recently.

Nearly all of the remaining funds from sanctioned entities to mixers come from two groups associated with the East Asian country, Lazarus Group and Blender.io, which mixes BTC, according to the crypto research firm. 

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What is a coin mixer?

Blockchain and cryptos feature a publicly visible register of all transactions, which means all transactions are traceable. Mixers are used to increase anonymity.

There might be legitimate reasons for a person to use a mixer, such as financial privacy or those who need to make legal transactions anonymously.

However, they are naturally attractive to cybercriminals as mixers rarely ask for KYC information. 

How do coin mixers work?

Mixers pool together funds deposited by users and mix them together at random.

Users then receive funds back from the mixed pool equivalent to what they deposited, minus a small service fee, according to Chainalysis.

BCH/USD

476.30 Price
+2.320% 1D Chg, %
Long position overnight fee -0.0753%
Short position overnight fee 0.0069%
Overnight fee time 21:00 (UTC)
Spread 2.50

BTC/USD

64,243.85 Price
+3.580% 1D Chg, %
Long position overnight fee -0.0616%
Short position overnight fee 0.0137%
Overnight fee time 21:00 (UTC)
Spread 106.00

DOGE/USD

0.16 Price
+13.080% 1D Chg, %
Long position overnight fee -0.0753%
Short position overnight fee 0.0069%
Overnight fee time 21:00 (UTC)
Spread 0.0012872

ETH/USD

3,050.29 Price
+4.390% 1D Chg, %
Long position overnight fee -0.0616%
Short position overnight fee 0.0137%
Overnight fee time 21:00 (UTC)
Spread 6.00

Although mixers are dominated by BTC there are a number of entities linked to ETH and other digital coins.

ETH to US dollar 

Some mixers make funds more difficult to trace by allowing users to take different amounts of funds they deposited at different times and addresses.

While others try to cover up a mixer being used by changing the fee on each transaction or changing the type of deposit address.

What is a coin mixer’s weak point?

By doing so mixers create a disconnect between the crypto funds that users deposit and withdraw, making it more difficult to trace the flow of funds.

However, mixers have one key vulnerability.

Large transactions make them ineffective. But mixers function best when they have a large number of users, all of whom are mixing comparable amounts of cryptocurrency.

North Korea’s $1bn crypto hack

In 2022, hackers associated with the North Korea government, Lazarus Group to be one of them, are believed to have stolen over $1bn worth of crypto.

Blender.io was the first mixer sanctioned in 2022 for laundering funds stolen by Lazarus Group and others associated with North Korea.

Despite their utility for criminals, mixers are not illegal by their nature, but they are clarified by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network in the US as money transmitters.

Markets in this article

BTC/USD
Bitcoin / USD
64243.85 USD
2216.55 +3.580%
ETH/USD
Ethereum / USD
3050.29 USD
128.05 +4.390%

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The difference between trading assets and CFDs
The main difference between CFD trading and trading assets, such as commodities and stocks, is that you don’t own the underlying asset when you trade on a CFD.
You can still benefit if the market moves in your favour, or make a loss if it moves against you. However, with traditional trading you enter a contract to exchange the legal ownership of the individual shares or the commodities for money, and you own this until you sell it again.
CFDs are leveraged products, which means that you only need to deposit a percentage of the full value of the CFD trade in order to open a position. But with traditional trading, you buy the assets for the full amount. In the UK, there is no stamp duty on CFD trading, but there is when you buy stocks, for example.
CFDs attract overnight costs to hold the trades (unless you use 1-1 leverage), which makes them more suited to short-term trading opportunities. Stocks and commodities are more normally bought and held for longer. You might also pay a broker commission or fees when buying and selling assets direct and you’d need somewhere to store them safely.
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