High-profile defector warns of North Korea cyber capabilities

Pierluigi Paganini May 30, 2015

A High-profile defector warns of that North Korea’s cyber army has the capability to run cyber attacks that could cause loss of human lives.

Digital life and real existence increasingly overlap, cyber weapons are proof of that a threat originating from cyberspace can cause real and tangible damage as the loss of human lives.

The BBC published an article based on the revelations of a North Korean defector, an alleged member of the dreaded elite cyber army established by the Government in Pyongyang.

North Korea holds an impressive army of cyber warriors, with over 6,000 sophisticated professionals. According to the claims of people who have escaped to South Korea, their main target is none other than Western infrastructure of critical value. The cyber army is trained and operates in an isolated county called Bureau 121.

“When it comes to cyber-attacks, few groups are as notorious as North Korea’s Bureau 121, which has operated since the late nineties. Most security researchers agree that the group operates out of China. Specifically, in the basement of a restaurant, rated highly on TripAdvisor for its tremendous Korean food.” reported the BBC.

North Korea has the highest percentage of military personnel in relation to population, it has approximately 40 enlisted soldiers per 1000 people with a considerable impact on the budget of the country.

In 2013, a defector declared that North Korea was increasing its cyber warfare unit to staff 3,000 people and it was massive training its young prodigies to become professional hackers.

North Korea cyber army

Last year, new revelations on the cyber capabilities of North Korea confirmed that the government of Pyongyang doubled the number of the units of its cyber army. According a report issued by the news agency the number of cyber warriors of the North Korea now is 5,900 and the cyber army has also established overseas bases for hacking attacks.

“The communist country operates a hacking unit under its General Bureau of Reconnaissance, which is home to some 1,200 professional hackers,” a military source was quoted as saying.

The BBC confirmed the amazing investment of the North Korea that wants to demonstrate its cyber capabilities to the rest of the world. Prof Kim Heung-Kwang, which has regular contact with key figures within the country with a deep knowledge of the military cyber operation run by the Government provided the following information to the BBC:

“The size of the cyber-attack agency has increased significantly, and now has approximately 6,000 people,” he said. “He estimated that between 10% to 20% of the regime’s military budget is being spent on online operations.” “The reason North Korea has been harassing other countries is to demonstrate that North Korea has cyber war capacity,” “Their cyber-attacks could have similar impacts as military attacks, killing people and destroying cities.”

Professor Kim explicitly refers to a new generation of government-built malware like a Stuxnet that could be used to hit critical infrastructure of any government.

“[A Stuxnet-style attack] designed to destroy a city has been prepared by North Korea and is a feasible threat,” Prof Kim said.

According Intelligence agencies South Korean hackers are responsible for numerous cyber attacks worldwide, including the clamorous Sony hack and a targeted offensive on South Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Plant.

“Although the nuclear plant was not compromised by the attack, if the computer system controlling the nuclear reactor was compromised, the consequences could be unimaginably severe and cause extensive casualties,” Prof Kim said.

Kim invited all the country to collect evidence of North Korea’s cyber terrorism and report them to the UN Human Rights Council and other UN agencies.

“If North Korea continues to cause damage in this way, an organisation such as Icann should ban North Korea.” said Kim “The international community needs to pay attention to North Korea’s attempts to destroy the internet.”

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  North Korea, cyber weapons)

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