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Prosecutors bust IP manipulation ring in Busan

Sept 29,2017
Prosecutors have uncovered a ring of criminals, including a former professional gamer, who used an internet protocol falsification program to manipulate search words on Naver, the biggest portal website in Korea.

Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said on Wednesday that they have indicted and detained a 32-year-old former professional gamer surnamed Jang and a 34-year-old surnamed Lee for interfering with their investigation.

The prosecutors said the suspects were under scrutiny for running IP manipulation programs, which evaded Naver IP filtering since July 2014 on roughly 100 PCs and smartphones to repeatedly inquire about certain search words, thereby increasing the number of hits those words got on the search word list. Over the course of 380,000 manipulations, 1.33 million words were manipulated on the portal website, resulting in profits of 3.35 billion won ($2.94 million).

The suspects used the money to build a three-story building in Busan. With about ten members, these IP manipulators divided their work into operations management, IP manipulation program development and search word manipulation.

Their customers were mainly businesses such as restaurants, plastic surgery clinics, dentists and cram schools. They would typically feature a business on the upper part of the search list. Portal websites like Naver block a particular IP when it acts in an artificial or suspicious manner, but the IP program constructed by the suspects was made to evade such filtering, even if a specific computer repeatedly entered a search word.

The suspects were careful about covering their tracks by registering and managing two other businesses with different names. Acting as an inconspicuous online business, these storefronts sent business proposals to restaurants and hospitals while filing for taxes. Jang had received a “Content Service Quality Certification” this year from the Korea Data Agency and the Ministry of Science and ICT for launching a one-person media news channel in 2016.

Other brokers helped connect the criminal ring to clients like restaurants. Prosecutors are also investigating these businesses, which brokered contracts worth over 200 million won.

According to prosecutors, Jang said he could not resist the temptation and was planning to shut the operations down soon after the money was made. “We plan to confiscate the criminal proceeds by fining their properties, both personal and company-owned,” said the prosecution. “Other search word manipulators who run such companies will be shut down.”

BY SON KOOK-HEE [bae.seunghoon@joongang.co.kr]