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N. Korean IT workers based in Russia’s Far East: sources

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — A group of North Korean information technology experts has moved its base from Hong Kong to Vladivostok in Russia and is likely engaged in earning foreign currencies there, sources familiar with the matter said Sunday.


Since allowing their activities in the Russian Far East is a potential violation of the U.N. Security Council’s resolution that prohibits nations from authorizing new permits to North Korean workers to work abroad, Russia’s security authorities have been on alert, the sources said.


While North Korean hackers have been blamed for involvement in massive cyberattacks around the world, including last year’s virtual currency theft in South Korea and the WannaCry ransomware attack in over 150 countries, the Vladivostok group’s involvement in any cyberattack has not yet been reported.


The North Korean group in Vladivostok consists of five to seven members believed to be in their 20s to 30s, some of whom are good at English, Chinese and Japanese languages. They moved to the Vladivostok area last October in an attempt to slip through sanctions by the United Nations and China, according to the sources.


“We had been working in China for about five years but became unable to continue our work due to sanctions,” one member of the group was quoted by the sources as saying, while another source close to China and Russia said they are paid far more than North Korean workers who engage in construction and agriculture.


Facing intensified economic sanctions, North Korea is believed to have boosted its activities to acquire foreign money through hacking as well as internet-related businesses. The Vladivostok group is believed to be working under the management of Pyongyang as well, according to the sources.


In Hong Kong, the group developed an online inventory and order management system, and now it is negotiating with Russian firms to receive orders, the sources said, adding that the group is believed to be accepting orders from Japan as well, with the help of ethnic Koreans residing in Russia and brokers in Japan.

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