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It appears North Korea is expanding their cyber warrior savvy in a plan that includes sending the best and brightest of young programmers abroad to bone up on hacking, with the alleged goal of holding their own in cyber warfare. On the heels of the recent Pentagon announcement where cyber terrorism acts may be met with traditional military response, this may add fuel to the fire, and complexity to the already tense relations with North Korea.
According to Kim Heung-kwang, who defected from Communist North Korea in 2003 and now heads a defectors’ group called North Korean Intellectuals Solidarity, “These prodigies are provided with the best environment, and if they graduate with top grades, their parents in the provinces are given the opportunity to live in Pyongyang.” Kim, who had worked as a professor in North Korea, describes the young hackers’ path, “After studying at local universities, these students are given the special privilege of continuing their studies abroad.” While this raises questions about the welfare of the remaining family should the student become tempted by greener pastures elsewhere and decide not to return, the ranks seem to be growing. Kim explained further at a cyber terrorism seminar in South Korea, “North Korea last year 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.” No trivial increase, numerically at least.
South Korea recently warned that the cyber threat from North Korea has increased, noting they have become more virulent and intelligent. Certainly South Korea is keenly interested in their northern neighbor’s online activities, evidenced by the popularity in South Korea of the recent breach of the official North Korean Twitter account. The breach is commonly attributed to South Korean hackers.
As nation states wrestle with their role in the forthcoming cyber nastiness, it remains to be seen what stance other countries besides the U.S. and South Korea will take on the growing technologically-based threats, but clearly these discussions are emerging front-and-center, and will be for some time to come.
Author Cameron Camp, ESET