North Korea training teams of 'cyberwarriors'

South Korea security experts believe the North has been training hackers to conduct cyberattacks, which may prove cheaper and faster than building nuclear devices or other weapons of mass destruction.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

North Korea is training a team of computer-savvy "cyberwarriors" as the battleground for its cross-border rivalry with the South extends into cyberspace, according to the Associated Press (AP) on Monday.

South Korea believes the North is training a team of "cyberwarriors" to use cyberspace as a battleground in their rivalry.

This comes after last Wednesday's cyberttack on local Internet service provider LG Uplus which resulted in server outages at three domestic broadcasters--YTN, MBC and KBS--as well as the Shinhan Bank and NongHyup Bank. The attacks were initially traced to an IP address in China but the Korea Communications Commission has since corrected its assessment saying the malware came from a local origin, a Yonhap report Sunday stated.

Currently, the South has no proof that the North was behind the cyberattack. However, the security experts believe North Korea has trained thousands of hackers for cyberwarfare with skills better than their counterparts in China and South Korea.

According to AP, Won Sei-hoon, then-chief of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, said there were 1,000 professional hackers in North Korea's cyberwarfare unit in 2009.

Kim Heung-kwang, a former professor at Pyongyang Computer Technology University and member of the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity group, also told AP North Korean students were recruited to the nation's top science schools to become "cyberwarriors". He added he trained future hackers at a university in North Korean city Hamhung for two decades before defecting in 2003.

Kim, who lived in South Korea since 2004, speculated more have been recruited since then, and some are based in China to infiltrate networks abroad. "North Korea has a capacity to send malware to personal computers, servers or networks and to launch DDoS-type attacks," he said. "Their targets are the U.S. and South Korea."

North Korean officials have not acknowledged allegations computer experts are trained as hackers and denied many cyberattack accusations, or commented on the most recent attack on South Korea, AP noted.

However, in mid-March, North Korea blamed the U.S. and its South counterpart for a set of cyberattacks aimed at infiltrating its Internet services and caused disruption to its main news service. One affected news agency Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), said both parties "will have to take the responsibiity for the whole consequences". 

Rise in hacking attacks in South Korea

Separately, data released on Sunday by South Korea's Financial Supervisory Service, the Korea Internet and Security Agency and the National Police Agency also found hacking attacks surged by nearly 67.4 percent from 2011 to 2012, reaching 19,570 attacks in total, according to a separate Yonhap report.

In contrast, the number of arrests made on cyberterror crimes fell 38.1 percent to 6,371 cases in 2012, the report found.

The most common form of hacking was spam relay, accounting for 33.5 percent of hacking cases, while other methods include modifying a Web site through malware at 16.1 percent and simple trespassing at 15.4 percent, the report found. 

South Korea though, said it stepped up cyberspace surveillance in preparation for a possible attack from North Korea amid the latter's threats of a nuclear war. The South Korean government on Sunday also said it was considering creating a cybersecurity secretary post within the presidential office to handle any cyberattacks on key national bodies.

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