N.Korea Turns to Online Game Hackers to Earn Hard Currency

Elite North Korean hackers created and distributed programs that stole millions of U.S. dollars from popular South Korean on-line gaming sites, such as Lineage and Dungeon Fighter, according to a police investigation.

The hackers, who are believed to have graduated from the North's prestigious Kim Il-sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology, stole gaming items such as weapons, armor and other objects that players collect and store in their on-line games and trade for cash.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said on Thursday it had arrested five South Koreans, including a 43-year-old identified only by his surname Chung. They were apprehended for creating programs, with the aid of hackers that use personal information stolen from servers for on-line games, and distributing them to buyers. Nine others were also arrested for aiding Chung in distributing the software.

"It appears that North Korea has gone beyond the traditional methods of earning foreign currency, such as drug manufacturing and producing counterfeit bills, to creating Internet hacking programs," a police official said.

Chung, who runs an Internet chat room in Daejeon in southwestern Korea, traveled to China's Heilongjiang Province in northern China in early 2009 and was introduced to around 30 North Korean hackers through a broker.

All of them were in their 20s and were graduates from Kim Il-sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology. They developed a program that creates virtual players and plays on-line games automatically. This is then used to collect for free items that usually cost money to purchase.

Chung allegedly made W6.4 billion (US$1=W1,061) over two years by selling the program.

Police also discovered that some 10,000 North Korean hackers were each remitting around US$500 to Pyongyang every month. They had been dispatched to China by the North's Rungrado General Trading Corporation and the Korea Computer Center.

Authorities believe the money was sent to a secretive branch of North Korea's Workers Party that goes by various monikers, including "Room 39," which is responsible for managing Kim Jong-il's slush funds.

englishnews@chosun.com / Aug. 05, 2011 11:09 KST