A North Korean defector has described what it was like to work as part of the nation’s internet hacking army. The defector described the job as thankless with little to no rewards. He also went on to talk about the appalling living conditions that the hackers had to live in. The defector, known only as ‘Jong’, spoke to Bloomberg Business about his activities with the North Korean cybercriminal unit, who were tasked with earning money for the nation.
North Korean Hackers Stealing Money for Country
Each hacker that worked for the unit was required to earn $100 000 a year for North Korea and send it back to the country. Despite making so much money, the hackers themselves lived in poor conditions in rudimentary barracks in China. The members were also subject to regular indoctrination sessions. This was in order to prevent their Internet access from fostering dangerous ideas and anti-North Korea sentiments.
Jong said that there were numerous criminal methods used to make money for the hermit nation. These included hacking online gambling sites to steal money. They also stole information from online casinos and provided it to players who were looking to be able to cheat. Other methods included pirating software and even building up high-level characters for online multiplayer video games, which could then be sold to players.
Hackers Linked to Many Crimes
The hacking teams faced severe punishment for any transgressions. These could include being sent back to re-education camps in North Korea. Jong also described himself as one of the luckier hackers, as those less skilled lived in even worse conditions with little to no food. Most of North Korea’s hackers are based outside the country, in China, India, and Cambodia. This is because these countries have far superior access to the Internet.
While North Korea’s hacking units have been linked to some high-profile cybercrimes in recent years, like the WannaCry malware virus, a bank heist in Bangladesh, and the attack on the cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck, most of their activities are on low-level scams that can make money quickly. They’re also far more interested in stealing money these days than classified secrets from other nations.
Jong was able to escape his hacking unit with a superior, following an incident. They were able to hide in China before they were made their way to the South Korean embassy. Currently, Jong is living in Seoul, South Korea, where he works for a software firm.