North Korean Authorities Order Tech Workers to Ramp Up Industrial Espionage in China

Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung (L) and Kim Jong Il (R) are displayed on the side of a building in Pyongyang, May 5, 2016.

North Korean authorities are increasingly sending information and communication technology workers abroad to steal advanced technology from China that the isolated country cannot develop on its own, sources inside North Korea said.

“The cutting-edge technology data collected overseas by North Korea’s State Security Department and Military Reconnaissance General Bureau has helped the country to rapidly develop scientific technology,” a source in the capital Pyongyang told RFA’s Korea Service.

“[Leader] Kim Jong Un has emphasized that this is the example that information and communication technology (ICT) workers should follow,” he said.

Kim Jong Un has encouraged ICT workers to steal advanced technology because he believes that North Koreans cannot develop it on its own even in 10 years, the source said.

“He told top executives that this was an expansion of a secret operation to introduce new cutting-edge technologies that were brought in from advanced nations,” he said.

The scheme includes roughly 1,000 North Korean ICT specialists who currently reside in China, he said. Kim Jong Un praises them as “patriots.”

Kim Jong Un has issued special orders to executives in charge of these ICT experts to extend their length of stay overseas accompanied by their families, he said.

'Use every method possible'

A North Korean trader who was dispatched to China told RFA that during a secret meeting held in one of his country’s diplomatic offices in China last June, ICT experts working in China were ordered to collect advanced energy- and military-related technology.

“During the meeting, plans were discussed about gathering as much cutting-edge technology as possible without being too exposed to Chinese institutions,” he said. “North Korean authorities told them not to hesitate to use every method possible, including buying or hacking to gather classified information about cutting-edge technology,” he said.

North Korean authorities have dispatched ICT workers to various parts of Shanghai under the pretext of earning foreign currency to transmit back home, the source said. But China found out that the workers had previously engaged in hacking and denied them work visas.

“This kind of reckless behavior of North Koreans in China has become a huge issue,” he said.

Many North Korean authorities are aggressively becoming involved in cultivating ICT experts and dispatching them to foreign countries, the North Korean trader said.

North Korean ICT workers are believed to be less expensive than their counterparts in China.

“North Korea has its eyes on cutting-edge technology, especially on weapons of mass destruction as well as military data, nuclear power plants, and construction-related technology,” he said. “This is very comprehensive.”

Many North Korean traders and diplomats complain that the authorities are risking the lives of ICT workers who have been ordered to steal advanced technology, he said. They also complain that once North Korea has the technology in hand, authorities do not use it to benefit ordinary people.

“China and other nations are aggressively seeking out those who engage in industrial espionage,” he said. “Many people are nervous about the possible consequences that could occur if this continues.”

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jackie Yoo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.