Students hacking for Kim Jong-il

Nieuws | de redactie
8 augustus 2011 | North Korean students programmed illegal software to collect rare items in online computer games and sold it via South Korean collaborators. Profits totaling over €4 million were led back to North Korean state trading companies through dubious channels.

How can you fill up your foreign currency reserves if yourcountry is internationally isolated and low on cash? North Korea’sanswer: hire smart students to hack online computer games.

The South Korean online games market is worth more than €2billion attracting over 30% of the whole population. Integral partof these games are rare items and tools that can be collectedduring the game making the player more powerful.

In a deliberate scheme, graduates from North Korean’s topuniversities designed software to automatically play popularfantasy games like Lineage and Dungeon Fighter to collect thesetools. The programs were then sold to players via South Koreanbrokers.

Autoprogramming for hard currency

This brought in proceeds of over 6,4 billion Won (€4 million)over the last 18 months. Many online gamers are more than happy topay for rare items in order to save time. Some of them are evenworth up to 1 million Won (€650) a piece.

According to the police, the racketeers’ profits were channeledto the North Korean programmers based in China. From there themoney found its way to Pyongyang’s Bureau 39, an infamous agency incharge of handling North Korea’s foreign transactions (and illegalarms deals among others).

“North Korea judged autoprogramming could be a source of hardcurrency. This had only been a rumour, but we found that NorthKoreans really were raising hard currency under the veil of statetrading companies” stated a police man involved in theinvestigation.

Stimulate the economy with student labor

In the recent past, North Korea has suffered from a number ofeconomic woes. In March 2010, a South Korean news agency reportedthat Kim Jong-il had a senior official executed who had failed toreform the North’s financial system.

International sanctions due to the fight over Kim Jong-il’snuclear ambitions have done their part to deprive the governmentfrom much needed cash. Exploring revenue sources by tapping intothe computer hacking talent of students then almost seemsreasonable.

Most of them, however, will be sent to work in farms, factoriesand construction projects over the next couple of months. NorthKorea’s leaders decided to shut down all universities for almost ayear in order to stimulate the economy.

Observers argue that this measure was, in fact, taken to makesure that delayed building projects will be finished next year. In2012, it will be the 100th anniversary of the country’sformer leader, Kim Il-sung, and the 70th birthday of hisson and current dictator. The plan is to face lift major citieslike Pyongyang.

Interested in reading more about North Korea? Click here for FaridTabarki’s column Kim Jong-il’s “kennisland” (in Dutch)

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