Police in Seoul said on Thursday that they had arrested five people suspected of orchestrating a team of gaming hackers at North Korea's behest. They allegedly infiltrated popular gaming sites like "Lineage" and "Dungeon and Fighter" and set up programs that allowed unmanned computers to perpetually accumulate points.
Stealing in a video game may sound like an inconsequential offense, but these are games in which players exchange the points for cash used to purchase upgrades for their avatars. The hackers are accused of making off with about $6.3 million dollars, part of which they funneled to agents in North Korea after paying themselves.
"They regularly contacted North Korean agents for close consultation," said Chung Kil-hwan, a senior officer for the police agency's International Crime Investigation Unit.
Police told The New York Times that North Korea was likely responding in part to international sanctions that have limited the amount of revenue flowing into the government's coffers. They also believe that some of the hackers trained at North Korea's elite universities, including the flagship Kim Il-Sung University, in hacking techniques.
The video game upgrade for cash industry is burgeoning, with the term "Chinese gold farmer" entering the lexicon to describe Chinese workers who earn a living by tediously gathering upgrades and selling them to others.