April 02, 2013

VG: Defector claims North Korea has 3,000 hackers

Translated by Andrea Torjussen

This article originally appeared on VG Nett on March 24, 2013.
South Korean computer experts claimed that a cyberattack on the country’s banks came from China, but they now blame North Korea.

Last week, three television stations and two banks in South Korea were knocked out at the same time in what is believed to be a cyberattack.

Another target on the list was the human rights organization the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, located in the United States.

The attack knocked out 32,000 computers, and South Koreans immediately suspected their enemy in the North. However, the day after the attack security authorities announced that all traces led to computers in China. This is completely wrong, writes CNN.

“We were too fast in our conclusion, and did not double check all the facts,” said Lee Seung-won, spokesman for the South Korean communications commission, in an interview with the Associated Press (AP).

Educates computer warriors 

The cyberattack was probably launched from North Korea, but the investigation of the attack can take several weeks.  The government in Seoul has not confirmed that the cyberattack came from North Korea, after they mistakenly blamed China for the attack last week.

According to computer experts in the South Korean capital, cyber warriors are being trained and educated in Pyongyang with the aim to increase their ability to conduct sabotage.

“North Korea has nothing to lose in a cyber war, even if they are responsible for having attacked banks and media, there is no measure for retaliation from South Korea,” says Kim Seong-joo, professor of computer defense at Seoul University, to AP.

South Korea has accused its neighbor of responsibility for six major cyberattacks since 2009. They have also created a command center to be able to compete in the technological race with the North, writes AP.

In the last couple of years, North Korea has undergone rapid technological development. The country has developed its own operating system, called the “Red Star,” and launched a Chinese-produced tablet that is specially designed for the North Korean market.

Thousands of hackers 

The last supplement to the North Korean arsenal is a growing ability to use cyberattacks in warfare. “The country uses sophisticated hackers to destroy and infiltrate,” said James Thurman, Commander of the United States Forces Korea, in 2012.

In 2010, the number of professional state-employed cyber warriors was an estimated 1,000 people. North Korea’s top universities educate these people, and some are even sent to China and Russia for further education.

“Some of these cyber warriors are also stationed in China, which has been North Korea’s greatest support in recent years,” stated Kim Heung-kwang, a defector who claims to have trained hackers in the town of Hamhung, to AP.

The defector, who quotes a classified document, claims that North Korea’s previous leader Kim Jong-il gave orders in 2009 that at least 3,000 state employees should function as professional cyber warriors.

“North Korea has the capacity to send damaging software to computers, servers and networks, and implement attacks that can knock out networks completely. The targets are the United States and South Korea,” stated the defector.

The Pyongyang government has not confirmed that students are being educated as hackers, and they have not commented on the latest cyberattacks.

“China’s Hackers Headquarters”

In February it became known that several computer attacks could be traced to an ordinary building in Shanghai.

This building is believed to be the APT 1’s group headquarters. APT stands for “Advanced Persistent Threat,” and the group is accused of the attacks against important goals, such as the national network for power supply in the United States, writes the Norwegian News Agency (NTB).

“We believe that the reason why groups like APT 1 can perform such extensive and lengthy espionage over the Internet must be that they are directly sponsored by the Chinese government,” claims the security company Mandiant in a New York Times report.

The Chinese government has denied these allegations.

“China’s military has never supported hacking. Claims against China’s military that they are involved in cyberattacks are unprofessional and not in accordance with the facts,” said the Chinese Ministry of National Defense in a statement.