Inside N. Korea’s Internet-based foreign currency-earning activities

The South Korean government recently issued a warning regarding North Korean IT personnel in a bid to block North Korea from earning foreign currency through cyberspace.

North Korea’s IT workforce is reportedly a growing part of the country’s efforts to secure funding for its nuclear and missile programs. So what are these IT professionals doing? And how do they live?

Last Tuesday, Daily NK interviewed Mr. A, an executive who monitors North Korean IT personnel in China.

He is tasked with monitoring the movements of North Korean IT personnel operating in small groups of 10 to 20 people and the executives who control them, and reporting his findings up the chain of command.

Mr. A watches over their lives on a daily basis, so I have to learn how North Korean IT workers earn foreign currency in China, what their living environment is like, and what difficulties they face. I was able to tell Daily NK in detail what I had to do.

He said North Korean IT personnel currently in China live like prisoners, living together in cramped apartments and office spaces. They said he works more than 18 hours a day and earns up to US$20,000 a month in foreign currency.

North Korea’s IT personnel are civilians, but after applying for overseas worker recruitment activities by major state agencies such as the Bureau of Munitions Industry, the Ministry of Defense, the Reconnaissance General Administration, the Ministry of State Security, the Central Committee, or North Korea After being dispatched to the National Security Commission or Central Committee of the country, they are dispatched abroad. Recommended by one of these institutions.

All of these agencies recruit and manage IT personnel and earn foreign currency, but each agency uses them for slightly different purposes, and the workers’ job responsibilities vary slightly from agency to agency.

For example, officials attached to the Office of Munitions Industries or the Department of Defense need to raise money for munitions, so they focus on illegal activities like cryptocurrency heists and hacks that can get big scores. 8 Funds” — Transfer money to the Workers Party.

On the other hand, officers of the Reconnaissance General Bureau and the Ministry of State Security often earn relatively small amounts of foreign currency and remit it as party funds while carrying out their main duties of intelligence gathering.

Most of North Korea’s IT personnel are concentrated in China, which is close to North Korea and has free access to the Internet.

China’s Liaoning and Jilin provinces reportedly host the most North Korean IT personnel.

Mr. A told Daily NK that since personnel can perform their duties anywhere there is internet, it can be difficult to send and manage personnel in locations far from home, so it is not recommended to go overseas. North Korean IT workers dispatched are mainly located in areas along the border with North Korea, he said. of operation.

Below is the full text of the interview with A.

Daily NK (DNK): How do North Korean IT personnel sent to China typically earn foreign currency?

Mr. A: “They receive money to complete orders such as writing computer programs, building websites, and developing various apps for mobile phones from the United States, Canada, and South American countries. Also, e We build all the programs for the commerce site.Because we work at low prices, we receive many orders.However, the specifications and skills required by orders vary from person to person, and income varies greatly from person to person. ”

DNK: Recently, the South Korean government issued a warning about the situation, stating that North Korean IT workers could falsify their nationality or identity to get jobs from South Korean companies. did you know about this? And what impact will such warnings have on the activities of North Korean IT personnel?

Mr. A: “We watch Korean news every day. Of course, we know about news that concerns us. However, we get most of our jobs from North and South America, and in the computer industry in other countries, few companies check your country of origin or identity before giving you a job.They are the cheapest. We just give jobs to people who can.If they meet the conditions they are looking for, we will work.Anyway, we are trying to make money here, but there is not much money from Korea in the first place. We weren’t earning any money, so if they try to stop us, it won’t affect us directly.”

DNK: I would like to know how much each individual IT worker earns. And will the state withhold party funds from that income?

Mr. A “Overseas, everyone contributes party funds. However, the degree of contribution varies by group. You can say that you will send 200,000 US dollars this year, or you will send 150,000 US dollars.Each worker will earn a different amount.Those who choose their jobs well and get many jobs will earn between 3,000 and 5,000 dollars a month. You can’t make that kind of money all the time, but if you have a lot of jobs, you can.But when the economy is bad like it is these days and it’s hard to find a job, you can earn about US$500. I don’t have a job, so it’s hard right now.Even if you earn a lot, if you earn a lot more than you did last year, you’ll also have to pay more for the party. If you want to bring it back to Japan, you have to earn more than that.”

What is the most difficult thing North Korean IT professionals have to endure when working in China? What challenges do they face?

“The hardest part is not being able to go out. or apartment, we have to spend 24 hours a day together, and we sit in front of the computer day and night (3-4 hours a day, maybe). It’s hard for boys in their 20s to be locked up in front of their computers all the time. I have no choice but to send them overseas. [the IT workers] I’m patient because I’ll be allowed to return to North Korea next year.”

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