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Illegal Online Gambling Helps North Korea Take in Millions

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A recent revelation by South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) has shed light on a disturbing trend. North Korea's alleged involvement in creating and selling illegal online gambling websites to a South Korean cybercrime ring. This activity, if confirmed, would highlight yet another avenue through which the sanctioned nation generates illicit income to support its regime.

Dandong Hub: Breeding Ground for Illicit Profits

The NIS identified Gyonghung Information Technology Co., a 15-member group based in the Chinese border town of Dandong, as the culprit. This location is noteworthy, as Dandong houses numerous apparel factories employing North Korean workers.

Related: UN Report Blames Online Gambling in SE Asia for Increase in Cyber Fraud

The NIS alleges that Gyonghung exploited this situation, developing gambling websites for $5,000 each, with an additional $3,000 monthly maintenance fee charged. Further profits were reportedly generated through user traffic directed towards specific payment channels, including accounts held by Chinese nationals and global services like PayPal.

The report paints a stark picture of North Korea turning a blind eye to its citizens working illegally in China, especially considering the UN Security Council sanctions implemented in 2017 prohibiting such activity. These sanctions aimed to hinder North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, but Gyonghung's alleged operation suggests the regime has found workarounds. By disguising themselves as IT workers, North Korean operatives appear to have circumvented regulations and generated illicit foreign currency.

Worrisome Ties: Bureau 39 and Personal Data Theft

Adding another layer of concern, the NIS linked Gyonghung to Bureau 39, a North Korean government agency responsible for managing and generating covert funds for leader Kim Jong Un. Individual members of Gyonghung reportedly sent $500 monthly to the government, further implicating the regime's direct involvement.

Moreover, the group's leader, Kim Kwang Myong, boasts a past with Pyongyang's Reconnaissance General Bureau. This raises questions about potential intelligence-gathering through these websites.

The illicit activity didn't stop at generating revenue. The NIS claims Gyonghung embedded malicious codes in its websites, allowing them to steal personal information from unsuspecting users. While the exact financial benefit from this remains unclear, the organization reportedly amassed profits in the trillions of South Korean won through its websites alone. Currently, an investigation into the South Korean cybercrime ring involved is ongoing.

The NIS report exposes a complex web of illegal activity allegedly orchestrated by North Korea. With millions potentially generated through online gambling, the revelation raises vital questions about the regime's ability to circumvent sanctions and exploit loopholes. While the investigation continues, concerns remain regarding the ethical implications and potential security risks associated with such operations.

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