In a piece of news that really hammers home exactly how absurd international espionage can be, the New York Times reported over the weekend that the North Korean government has found a new way to bolster its never-ending war against the fascist capitalist system (not to mention bolster Kim Jong-il's personal cognac and Blu-ray collections in the process): gold farming.
Yes, the current illegal activity of choice for every lazy dirtbag tired of emailing people at random about cheap dick pills and Nigerian princes has now become an officially sanctioned practice by the Great Leader and whoever happened to be in the room at the time to nod approvingly at his divine suggestion.
According to the NYT piece, the South Korean government has specifically accused the North of setting up hacked computers to mine gold in both Lineage and Dungeon Fighter, two MMOs that are still quite popular in South Korea. Evidently, Seoul police recently arrested a group of five (four South Koreans, and a Chinese resident) who are tied to a group of hackers based in Northern China. These hackers set up the accounts and computers to mine the gold, then sell it over the web. Over the course of two years, the group amassed profits of roughly $6 million, 55% of which was distributed among the group itself. A portion of that 55% was forwarded to agents in North Korea, on order from the government.
The most screenplay-ready part of this story is the detail that explains where these hackers came from. Evidently, nearly all are graduates from North Korea's most prestigious science universities, which apparently are at least capable of teaching nuclear science, computer hacking, and probably air conditioning repair also, thus making them the world's most dangerous equivalent of a DeVry Institute. Anyway, all the hackers report back to a "shadowy" section of the North Korean government called "Office 39." This is the same section of the government believed to be dealing in illegal weapons and narcotics trafficking for the sake of amassing more funds for Kim Jong-il's assorted nefarious schemes. So now we can add gold farming to the category of things used to fund nuclear terrorism. Awesome.
Unsurprisingly, the North Korean government rebutted the claims, and blamed the accusations on an invented South Korean conspiracy, which of course sounds totally reasonable.
By the way, that image comes from the Tumblr blog "Kim Jong-il Looking At Things" which is just about the best thing ever.