SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean police said Thursday they have arrested five people who allegedly collaborated with elite North Korean hackers to steal millions of dollars in points from online gaming sites.
The five, including a Chinese man, were arrested and another nine people were booked without physical detainment after they worked with North Koreans to hack South Korean gaming sites, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said in a statement.
Members of the hacking ring, which included North Korea’s technological elite, worked in China and shared profits after they sold programs that allowed users to rack up points without actual play, police said.
The points were later exchanged for cash through sites where players trade items to be used for their avatars. The police said the ring made about $6 million over the last year and a half.
A police investigator, who declined to be identified because the investigation was under way, said North Korean hackers were asked to join the alleged scheme because they were deemed competent and could help skirt national legal boundaries.
The police pointed to North’s Korea Computer Center as the alleged culprit. Set up in 1990, the center has 1,200 experts developing computer software and hardware for North Korea, the police said.
The National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s spy agency, was heavily involved in the investigation, the police said. Investigators suspect the hackers’ so-called “auto programs” could be used as a conduit for North Korean cyberattacks.
South Korean authorities have accused North Korea of mounting cyberattacks in the past few years. Prosecutors said earlier this year that the North hacked into a major South Korean bank’s system and paralyzed it for days. The North is also accused of mounting attacks on U.S. and South Korean websites. Pyongyang has denied the charges.