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Blog: North Korean Cyber Warriors

North Korean Cyber Warriors


Ever since seeing the VICE guide to North Korea in 2009, I’ve been fascinated by the notion of going to this country. It might sound strange wanting to visit a rogue state, completely shut-off from the world. A country that is desperately working to maintain their alternate reality. All marching towards the glory of one man. But this is the thing that is fascinating. When growing up entrenched in the individual ethos, it is fascinating to go and observe a place that is completely different from everything you’ve ever known. Even more so, because there are few reports coming from this state, other than rumors regarding nuclear tests and malicious acts against its neighbor South Korea.

For example this article I read in the past week about the cyber warfare that North Korea is involved in. South Korea claims that North Korean hackers are the ones behind the crash of a South Korean bank last April, which blocked the usage of ATMs and online services for several days. The attack also destroyed key data on the bank’s servers. Western analysts have described it as the first publicly reported case of computer sabotage by one nation against a financial institution in another country.’ Furthermore this “The bank attack was like shelling an island to create terror without attacking a high-value military target,” said George Wicherski, researcher with U.S.-based McAfee Labs. He made this statement in reference to the North Korea’s artillery attack on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island last November.

Recruiting children with a talent for mathematics, coding and equipped with top analytical skills. They will go through a six-year elite program in Pyongyang and two years at North Korea’s top technological institutions and universities. After which they will be sent to China or Russia to complete their hacking and other tech skills. The hackers have access to decent housing (by North Korean standards that is), food subsidies and a proper stipend during deployment abroad. And although these people have complete access to the internet, desertion isn’t as frequent as you would think. Kim Heung-kwang, who was a computer science professor in North Korea, believes that the reason for this lack of desertion is the status and regard that exists for these hackers within the Party. These “cyberwarriors” serve in various warfare units, the most notorious being Unit 121. This unit was probably responsible for the blocking of some South Korean and U.S. governmental websites on July 4th, 2009. And also behind the attack on the South Korean bank last April. This might be strange in a country in which most of its citizens can’t feed themselves, moreover a place where few people have access to the internet. But it still manages to train and use hackers in this cyber warfare against the outside world. To quote the movieHackers (1995): “Hack the Planet!