The New York Times is reporting that minions of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il have found an interesting way of earning some much needed cash - MMO's. According to South Korean authorities, their neighbor to the North has created an army of young hackers and unleashed them on South Korea's most popular MMORPG's. This group is finding ways to exploit systems, gather in-game credits and convert it all back to cold hard cash.
Police in Seoul said Thursday that four South Koreans and a Korean-Chinese were arrested on charges related to such activities, and further allege that many of the 30 or so "young video gaming experts" were working out of Northern China. According to police, this group developed hacking software that circumvented the servers for such South Korean online games as Lineage and Dungeon and Fighter. This security breach allowed the group to play "around-the-clock" and farm various virtual goods.
The ill-gotten goods (the NYT refers to them as "points" but that is not entirely an accurate description) were then exchanged for cash at web sites where virtual goods are resold to players who want them and are willing to pay real-world money. Police also said that the software these men used to exploit various games was also sold.
In less than two years the group managed to raise $6 million, and, according to police, they gave 55 percent of it to the hackers, who forwarded some of it to agents in Pyongyang, North Korea.
"They regularly contacted North Korean agents for close consultations," Chung Kil-hwan, a senior officer at the police agency’s International Crime Investigation Unit, said during a news briefing.
Chung said the hackers, who are all reportedly graduates of North Korea’s elite science universities were dispatched from two places: the Korea Computer Center in Pyongyang and the Korea Neungnado General Trading Company. The latter company, he claims, reports to a shadowy Communist Party agency called Office 39, which "gathers foreign hard currency for Mr. Kim through drug trafficking, counterfeiting, arms sales and other illicit activities."
South Korean and American officials claim this secret and covert fund is worth billions, and that Kim uses it to finance his nuclear weapons programs and to smuggle luxury goods into the country, which he in turn uses to buy the allegiance of the party and the military elite.
The North Korean computer experts were each required to send at least $500 a month back to the Pyongyang government, according to police.
North Korean officials denied the accusations and said that South Korean officials were simply "inventing a conspiracy."