Largely cut off from the rest of the world, blighted by endemic shortages and stubbornly committed to an official ideology of juche, or self-reliance, North Korea seems an unlikely candidate for tech pioneer status. Yet even the most sceptical visitor to the country thinks again after trawling round the showcase science and military wares on display for foreigners in the capital Pyongyang. The same goes for readers of The Lazarus Heist, a riveting tale of cyber (and analogue) crime in the hermit kingdom.
Readers are in for a rollicking ride through global hotspots for organised crime, including Macau, Hollywood and Thailand’s Pattaya. There is a rich cast of characters, and White marshals his material with aplomb.
The shadowy Lazarus Group, a well-funded squad of computer hackers working for the North Korean government, pursues sophisticated crimes alongside bumbling two-bit criminals. In 2018, shifty mules armed with little more than fake bank cards crisscross towns in 29 countries in a sort of supermarket sweep of ATMs that US officials attribute to Pyongyang. Elsewhere, sweaty men play the age-old game of rinsing ill-gotten gains through the roulette wheel. Players are variously wily, smart and hapless — and all, including the hawkish US officials on the trail of North Korea’s elite cyber warriors, are pursuing their own agendas.
According to the author, North Korea’s campaign is a well-oiled machine geared at boosting state coffers, given the country’s negligible income from trade or other international activities. At its heart is the nurturing of skilled mathematicians — fast-tracked from the age of 11 — who are sent to front companies overseas. These “cyber warriors” live in hacker dorms, work excessively long hours with little sleep, and travel on foreign passports. “This is the beauty of computer code,” writes White. “Understanding how to wield it efficiently can take years, but once mastered just a few strokes are all you need.”
By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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