North Korea's Cyber War
A ghost in the wires
SEOUL, KOREA — It has often been said of the smartest criminals that if they were to put their talents into positive endeavors, they would become great successes. The statement may be true for North Korean hackers as well.
Computer hacking has often been described as a person or group that breaks into computers, which is done by gaining access to administrative controls. The subculture that has evolved around hackers is often referred to as the computer underground. Proponents claim to be motivated by artistic, political and financial means, and are often unconcerned about the use of illegal means to achieve them.
Reading, writing, and hacking
Cash-strapped North Korea has found a unique way to stock its dwindling foreign reserves. The isolated nation starts teaching primary school children computer literacy and then chooses the best and the brightest to attend prestigious universities and IT institutions such as Kim Chaek University of Technology and Kim Il-sung University. There they train hackers to take over some international gaming websites (especially in South Korea) to rake in millions of dollars. Despite widespread starvation and malnutrition in a country that is described as the “last Stalinist regime,” the money that is earned from hacking goes to advancing its nuclear program. In fact, some North Korean experts believe that North Korea funded its recently botched rocket launch by using some of their funds obtained from hacking.
North Korean defector Kim Heung-kwang was a former professor to these young “cyber warriors.” He was also in charge of monitoring contraband South Korean television dramas, foreign books and managing other classified materials, until he was caught renting some of the materials to a friend. He escaped North Korea in 2003 through China and has lived in Seoul since 2004 as the head of a defectors' group called the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity.
North Korea’s cyber army gets surprisingly sophisticated
Kim Heung-kwang stated “The reclusive state of North Korea is scouring its universities for computer prodigies to send overseas for training as part of a plan to expand its cyber warfare unit. These prodigies are provided with the best environment, and if they graduate with top grades, their parents are given the opportunity to live in Pyongyang and the students have the rare opportunity and special privilege of studying abroad.” He continues, “Two years ago North Korea raised the status of its cyber warfare unit under the Reconnaissance General Bureau and increased the number of troops in the unit from 500 to about 3,000.”
In 2011, North Korea hacked into the Nyhop Bank that brought down the full network in what the South called an “unprecedented act of cyber terror.” The hackers were blamed for crashing the servers of the Nonghyup Bank and preventing millions of South Koreans from accessing their credit cards and ATM accounts for several days.
The average "Lee's" Internet access
The average North Korean is almost completely isolated from the rest of the world and, while there is a public telephone network, there is no broadband data network. Satellite Internet coverage from BGAN and Thuraya is available, offering download speeds up to 492 kbit/s and upload speeds of 400 kbit/s.
According to one report released in 2009, many North Koreans had never heard of the Internet, although a few of the party-elite are connected to the Internet via a link to China. Kim Jong-il himself was said to have loved "surfing the net."
Is there a solution for the hacking problem?
The war against hacking is a continuous battle that has a starting point with what seems like no ending at all. The world is using a variety of methods either to halt attacks or minimize their effects on different perspectives. Many computer experts found that the best way to minimize the effect of attacks or even avoid them is by building a well educated computer user who can gain benefit from different security techniques in the war against hacking.