In North Korea, Hackers Are a Handpicked, Pampered Elite: Reuters

Regardless of its poverty and isolation, North Korea has poured assets into a classy cyber-warfare cell referred to as Bureau 121, defectors from the secretive state stated as Pyongyang got here beneath the microscope for a crippling hack into computer systems at Sony Footage Leisure.

A North Korean diplomat has denied Pyongyang was behind the assault that was launched final month however a U.S. nationwide safety supply stated it was a suspect.

Defectors from the North have stated Bureau 121, staffed by a few of the most gifted pc specialists within the insular state, is a part of the Common Bureau of Reconnaissance, an elite spy company run by the army. They’ve stated it’s concerned in state-sponsored hacking, utilized by the Pyongyang authorities to spy on or sabotage its enemies.

Pyongyang has lively cyber-warfare capabilities, army and software program safety specialists have stated. A lot of it’s focused on the South, technically nonetheless in a state of warfare with North Korea. However Pyongyang has made no secret of its hatred of the USA, which was on the South’s aspect within the 1950-fifty three Korean Struggle.

Army hackers are among the many most gifted, and rewarded, individuals in North Korea, handpicked and educated from as younger as 17, stated Jang Se-yul, who studied with them at North Korea’s army school for pc science, or the College of Automation, earlier than defecting to the South six years in the past.

Chatting with Reuters in Seoul, he stated the Bureau 121 unit includes about 1,800 cyber-warriors, and is taken into account the elite of the army.

"For them, the strongest weapon is cyber. In North Korea, it is referred to as the Secret Struggle," Jang stated.

Certainly one of his pals works in an abroad staff of the unit, and is ostensibly an worker of a North Korean buying and selling agency, Jang stated. Again residence, the pal and his household have been given a big state-allotted house in an upscale a part of Pyongyang, Jang stated.

"Nobody is aware of … his firm runs enterprise as standard. That is why what he does is scarier," Jang stated. "My good friend, who belongs to a rural space, might deliver all of his household to Pyongyang. Incentives for North Korea’s cyber specialists are very robust … they’re wealthy individuals in Pyongyang."

He stated the hackers in Bureau 121 have been among the many one hundred college students who graduate from the College of Automation annually after 5 years of research. Over 2,500 apply for locations on the college, which has a campus in Pyongyang, behind barbed wire.

"They’re handpicked," stated Kim Heung-kwang, a former pc science professor in North Korea who defected to the South in 2004, referring to the state hackers. "It’s a nice honor for them. It’s a white-collar job there and other people have fantasies about it."

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The know-how information website Re/code reported on Wednesday that Sony intends to call North Korea because the supply of the assault. However when requested concerning the Re/code report, a Sony spokeswoman stated no announcement from the studio was coming. The corporate declined touch upon Thursday.

Sony Footage, a unit of Japan’s Sony Corp, is the distributor of "The Interview," a forthcoming comedy that includes a plot to assassinate North Korean chief Kim Jong Un. North Korea has described the movie as an "act of struggle".

Final yr, greater than 30,000 PCs at South Korean banks and broadcasting corporations have been hit by an identical assault that cybersecurity researchers extensively consider was launched from North Korea.

Months later, the South Korean authorities’s on-line presence was focused, with the president’s web site defaced with a banner studying "Lengthy stay Common Kim Jong Un, president of reunification!"

Neither assault was notably refined, however South Korean authorities stated North Korea was responsible, despite the fact that ‘hacktivist’ teams – on-line activists who hack excessive-profile targets to be able to unfold political messages – first appeared to say duty.

These assaults used rudimentary however efficient malware which safety researchers later dubbed DarkSeoul.

Also referred to as the DarkSeoul Gang, the hackers have been concerned in a 5-yr spree towards South Korean targets, in accordance with a report final yr by pc safety agency Symantec, which estimated the group included 10 to 50 hackers and described it as "distinctive" in its capacity to hold out excessive-profile and damaging assaults over a number of years.

Some safety specialists have forged doubt on North Korean involvement within the assault on Sony, citing the publicity-looking for hacktivist fashion of the assaults. Nevertheless, using an unknown identify by the group behind the Sony assaults, "Guardians of Peace", is just like earlier assaults by the DarkSeoul gang.

It stays unclear if the DarkSeoul gang are outsiders engaged on behalf of North Korea, or a few of Pyongyang’s troops within the remoted nation’s personal ‘cyber military’.

— Ju-Min Park and James Pearson, Reuters

First revealed December 5 2014, 6:forty seven AM