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

The South Korean government recently announced a warning about North Korean IT personnel with the aim of preventing North Korea from earning foreign currency through cyberspace.

North Korean IT personnel are reportedly a growing part of the country’s efforts to secure funds for its nuclear and missile programmes. So, what do these IT experts do? And how do they live?

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

He is tasked with monitoring the movements of North Korean IT personnel, who work in small groups of 10 to 20, as well as those of the cadres who manage them, and reporting his findings up the chain of command.

Since Mr. A regularly observes how they live, he can tell Daily NK in detail how North Korean IT staff in China earn foreign exchange, what their living environment is like and what difficulties they have to face.

According to him, the North Korean IT personnel currently being sent to China live like prisoners, staying en masse in cramped apartments or office spaces. He said they work long days of 18 hours or more, and earn up to $20,000 a month in foreign currency.

North Korean IT personnel are civilians, but they are sent abroad after applying for overseas worker recruitment campaigns by major state agencies such as the Ordnance Industry Administration, the Ministry of Defense, the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, the Ministry of State Security, or the Central Committee, or after being recommended by one of these agencies.

All of these agencies send and manage IT staff to earn foreign exchange, but the duties of the workers differ slightly from agency to agency because each organization uses them for slightly different purposes.

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For example, individuals who belong to the Department of Ammunition Industry or the Department of Defense focus on illegal activities that can make big profits like stealing or hacking cryptocurrency because they must collect money for the ammunition — which is called “Jan. 8 money” — to send it. to the Labor Party.

On the other hand, employees of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance or the Ministry of State Security often earn relatively small amounts of foreign currency to send as party money while performing their main duty, intelligence gathering.

Most North Korean IT personnel are concentrated in China, where they can freely use the Internet while staying close to North Korea.

The Chinese provinces of Liaoning and Jilin reportedly host most of the North Korean IT staff.

Mr. A told Daily NK that because employees can perform their duties anywhere there is working internet — and because sending and managing staff away from home can be a challenge — North Korean IT workers who are sent abroad make areas along The border with North Korea is their main place of operations.

Below is the full text of the interview with Mr. A.

Daily NK (DNK): How do North Korean IT staff who are sent to China usually make foreign currency?

Mr. A: “They receive money for completing orders from the United States, Canada and South American countries to make computer software, make websites, develop various mobile applications. They also build all the software for e-commerce websites. They get a lot of orders because they do the work at lower prices.” However, incomes vary greatly between individuals because demands require different specifications and skills differ slightly from person to person.”

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DNK: Recently, the South Korean government said that North Korean IT workers could fake their nationality or identity to get work from South Korean companies and issued a warning about this situation. Do you know about this? And what kind of impact would a warning like this have on the activities of IT personnel in North Korea?

Mr. A: “I watch South Korean news every day. Naturally, I know about news that has something to do with us. However, our usual area of ​​operations is not South Korea. I said this a while ago, but we get most of our business from North America and South America.” In the computer industries of other countries, few companies check what country you are from or your identity before giving you a chance to work. They just give work to whoever does it cheaper. If we match the conditions they are looking for, we do the work. Anyway, We’re trying to make money here, and since we weren’t making much money that way from South Korea to begin with, it won’t have a direct impact on us no matter what they do to stop us.”

DNK: We’re curious about how much income individuals working in IT are making. Does the state take the party’s money from this income?

Mr. A: “Everyone out there pays party money. However, contributions vary from group to group. Each CEO who runs a group submits a plan stating how much he will pay in party money in a given year. We can say we will be sending $200,000 USD this year , Or we will send 150,000 US dollars.Every worker earns a different amount of money.Those who choose their jobs well and get a lot of work earn 3,000 to 5,000 US dollars a month.You can’t make that kind of money all the time, but you can when it’s There is a lot of work.However, some men may earn about $500, as nowadays, when the economy is bad and it is difficult to get a job.Now things are difficult because there is no work.Even if you earn a lot, if you make more Much more than you did the year before, you have to pay more to party too. So, you have to earn more than that if you want to bring home a lot of money.”

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What is the hardest thing North Korean IT staff have to endure while working in China? What difficulties do they face?

“The hardest thing is that they can’t go out. They’ve never been outside before either, but because of COVID-19 for the past 3 years, they’ve gone out less. They need to spend 24 hours a day together in offices or small apartments, sitting in front of their computers day and night, except maybe three or four hours a day.Before, they would sometimes go out to look at the markets, but due to the corona virus, they can no longer go out.It is hard for boys in their 20s to stay locked in front of computers All the time. However, from the position of the state, it has no choice but to send them abroad because they earn much more than the workers. It seems [the IT workers] We bear it because they will be allowed to return to North Korea next year.”

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