North Korean computer hackers for Hire.


IT IS often said of the smartest criminals that if they were to put their talents into legal endeavours, they would become great legitimate successes. The same may well be true of North Korea as a whole. Last week its government was accused of renting out 30 of its elite programmers to a group of scammers, who employed their talents to steal millions of dollars from online-gaming firms in the South.


Working from Chinaa hotbed of hacking in its own rightthe North Korean team were introduced to a South Korean internet caf owner in 2009. The 43-year-old, identified only as Mr Chung, had found them through a broker based in Heilongjiang province. Mr Chung hired the group to create a program that would penetrate the servers of massively multi-player online games (MMOs) such as the wildly popular Lineage, and play them automatically. This technique enabled the amassing of virtual assets within the game worlds, such as swords, shields and the like, without any further human involvement. Hardcore gamers around the worldand especially in South Koreaare prepared to spend real-world money for such virtual items, and indeed, selling them has become one of the best profit centres of big MMOs. Police believe that North Korean-created automaton-players netted the group some $6m. The hackers share is understood to have gone ultimately to the so-called Office 39, a department of the North Korean government responsible for earning foreign currency through illicit means, including drug trafficking. International sanctions have forced the regime to become more creative in its quest for cash in recent years; hence the new interest in computer games.
<< North Korean Propaganda Art Photo

According to South Korean police, there are as many as 10,000 North Korean hackers plying their trade in China, who remit about $500 each to Pyongyang per month. They report to government-run organisations such as the Korea Computer Centre, or Rungrado General Trading Corporation, and many are graduates of elite institutions like Kim Il Sung University.

It seems that their activities also extend to cyber-warfare; as recently as May, a bank in South Korea had its network attacked, apparently by North Korean hackers. In March, the websites of government departments and banks were also crippled by the now-classic DDoS method.

Many outsiders have assumed that the internet would become a force for openness and change in North Korea, however slowly. For now, it seems as though that self-proclaimed internet expert, Kim Jong Ila man who once asked Americas then-secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, for her e-mail addressis instead finding ways of using it to increase his chances of survival.


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