North Korea has an image in the international community of being one of the most secretive and guarded countries in the world right now under the leadership of Kim Jong Un. Gambling is illegal in North Korea but the government allows a number of illegal gambling websites to operate and offer its services to foreigners as they get a major cut of the profits, according to various reports over the years including a recent release over UPI.
These illegal online gambling providers often target residents in neighboring South Korea and in total is said to generate around $866 million for the Kim Jong Un regime. These numbers are extremely impressive considering the fact that the North Korea’s GDP stands at $40 billion. North Korea not only profits from the illegal gambling industry but has also developed multiple teams of sophisticated hackers and cyber developers who create innovative gambling software which is then sold to offshore gambling providers.
The chief of South Korea’s Defense Security Command, Cho Hyun-chun has stated that there are more than 6,000 full time hackers assembled by the North Korean government who have been given the responsibility to wage cyber attacks, online espionage and hack into confidential websites with a special focus on South Korea. The intelligence unit in Seoul states that the North Korean cyber division called Bureau 121 is responsible for employing these 6,000 hackers.
While numerous reports paint North Korea as a nation that is under developed and oppressive with its citizens suffering due to a lack of basic amenities, the government has chosen to invest heavily into its cyber division to prepare itself to hack some of the most sophisticated systems in the world. The government has continued to aggressively build its cyber cell over the last couple of years.
Cho stated that this massive cyber army is based out of Pyongyang and was initially assembled back in the 1990s’. The operations are split into two categories where the first group are responsible for distributing audio and video materials that are encrypted and can be used for online espionage. The second group is run by North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau and departments which are relevant to IT operations and are responsible for online gambling operations and software development.
During the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a total of 15 nationals from North Korea were arrested by the authorities in Cambodia for running an underground online betting world cup football operation and $8.6 million in betting funds were seized.
In April 2016, Gen. Vincent Brooks addressed the growth of hackers in North Korea and told Senate leaders in the US “This is an area of growth. While I would not characterize them as the best in the world, they are among the best in the world and the best organized.”