Illicit cryptocurrency transactions in the decentralised finance (DeFi) sector have been rising rapidly over the last two years, according to Chainalysis’ recently published Web 3 Safety and Compliance report. Data gathered by the blockchain analytics firm shows that in 2022 so far, criminals have stolen $1.7 billion (roughly Rs. 13,210 crore) in digital assets, with DeFi protocols accounting for 97 percent of the total. The $600 million (roughly Rs. 4,660 crore) Ronin bridge breach in late March and the $320 million (roughly Rs. 2,486 crore) Wormhole attack in February were the main sources of the loot.
According to the research, most stolen assets – over $840 million (roughly Rs. 6,527 crore) – have gone to hackers with ties to North Korea as of 2022. Money laundering using DeFi protocols has also expanded steadily in recent years, with DeFi protocols accounting for 69 percent of crypto-based hauls related to illegal activity.
The paper talks about the difficulties of tracking the flow of digital assets to the design of most such protocols, which allow users to trade one token for another. The absence of KYC requirements in most DeFi schemes has also made them more appealing to criminals.
The research referenced the example of the notorious Lazarus Group, which laundered $91 million (roughly Rs. 70,710 lakh) in cryptocurrency on multiple protocols last year. The organisation allegedly converted stolen tokens to Ether and Bitcoin, then transferred them to centralised exchange accounts and cashed out the funds.
The paper also talks about non-fungible token (NFT) wash trading — a market manipulation tactic that inflates an illiquid asset artificially. NFTs can be traded between wallets controlled by the same business, providing market players with the false impression that demand for the asset is stronger than it is.
According to Chainalysis, one case has created over 650,000 wETH (wrapped Ether) in transaction volume due to tampering. The events happened on the same platform, according to the report, since the marketplace offered incentive rewards for trading NFTs in the form of the platform’s native coin.
By just transacting more frequently between accounts, users can earn extra tokens. Meanwhile, NFT collectors may be misled into believing that the marketplace is busier than it is.