(NationalSecurity.news) A defector from North Korea who claims he once worked as a computer expert for the government says Pyongyang has a vast network of hackers devoted to cyberwarfare, CNN reported recently.
Though North Korea is one of the world’s poorest countries and is generally not considered technologically advanced, the existence of a sophisticated hacker network appears to be an exception.
Jang Se-yul, who defected seven years ago, told CNN in December that North Korea has some 1,800 cyber warriors stationed around the world. He added that even the agents themselves do not know how many others work in the secretive group called Bureau 121, whose mission is to “conduct cyberattacks against overseas and enemy states.”
South Korean officials said at the time they believe that Bureau 121 was behind a number of cyberattacks on various elements in several countries that have been blamed on the North.
North Korea’s alleged hacking capabilities came to light during the massive hack of Sony Pictures, the studio that made the movie The Interview, a comedy that centered on the U.S. government’s plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un using two reality TV stars. The hack was followed by warnings not to show the movie in theaters.
The warnings caused Sony to postpone and limit the film’s release.
Following the Sony hack, North Korean state-run media praised it.
“The hacking into the SONY Pictures might be a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK,” reported KCNA, North Korea’s state-run media.
In general comments about Pyongyang’s hacking capabilities, Jang said he believes that the Stalinist nation’s cyberwarfare is more real and dangerous than the regime’s ability to launch a nuclear offensive.
Said Jang, “This silent war — the cyberwar — has already begun without a single bullet fired.”
Given that some of the allegations against North Korean hacking are well founded, some have asked why a country that is so poor and has so few resources would devote so much to developing a cyberwarfare capability.
Jang, who said he is still in contact with at least one Bureau 121 operative, said the answer is simple: “Raising cyberagents is fairly cheap.”
“The world has the wrong view of the North Korean state,” he added. “With that incorrect world view, North Korea was able to increase its ability to launch cyberattacks.”
Jang said he attended North Korea’s military college for computer science, the University of Automation, and that he later worked in information services for the government before defecting.
He showed CNN reporters reams of information he says was stolen by North Korean operatives in Bureau 121, including data taken from South Korean financial institutions that appeared to list bank accounts, names and financial information.