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[infowar.de] wired 2.06.03 (cyberjuche) North Korea's School for Hackers
> And some U.S. defense experts accuse South Korea of hyping the cyber threat posed by its northern neighbor, which they claim is incapable of seriously disrupting
> the U.S. military.
na hoffentlich sind das nicht die selben verteidigungsexperten, die
sonst die bedrohung gerne hypen.....
North Korea's School for Hackers
By Brian McWilliams
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,59043,00.html
02:00 AM Jun. 02, 2003 PT
In North Korea's mountainous Hyungsan region, a military academy
specializing in electronic warfare has been churning out 100
cybersoldiers every year for nearly two decades.
Graduates of the elite hacking program at Mirim College are skilled in
everything from writing computer viruses to penetrating network defenses
and programming weapon guidance systems.
Or so South Korea's government would have the world believe.
Since at least 1994, military and intelligence officials in Seoul have
warned of the growing threat posed by the "infowar" academy to the
north, which they say was founded in the 1980s and is also known as the
Automated Warfare Institute.
Most recently, South Korea's Defense Security Command raised the specter
of Mirim at a cybersecurity seminar in mid-May, where a South Korean
general noted that North Korea is "reinforcing its cyberterror
Yet Pentagon and State Department officials say they are unable to
confirm South Korea's claims that Mirim or any other North Korean hacker
academy even exists.
And some U.S. defense experts accuse South Korea of hyping the cyber
threat posed by its northern neighbor, which they claim is incapable of
seriously disrupting the U.S. military.
"The KPA (Korean People's Army) is still predominantly an analog and
vacuum-tube force," said Alexandre Mansourov, a professor at the
Pentagon's Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. "We tend to
overestimate the level of information-technology expertise in the North
Korean military, and South Korea is especially guilty of this."
Representatives of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, as well
as its Institute for Defense Analyses and Information Security Agency,
did not respond to requests for more information about Mirim College or
North Korea's information warfare capability.
Outside North Korea little is known about secretive Pyongyang's current
infowar prowess, according to John Pike, president of
GlobalSecurity.org, which maintains an online guide to North Korea's
But Pike said the militaristic nation, which spends much of its gross
national product on defense, undoubtedly is working to digitize its
"It's not the sort of thing that a spy satellite is going to pick up,"
said Pike. "But even if the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)
can't feed its own people, it's quite capable of developing and using
the full spectrum of modern weaponry, including cyber."
Indeed, the regime in North Korea would be grossly negligent if it
failed to beef up its information warfare capability, according to
Mansourov. Its adversary South Korea, one of the most wired nations in
the world, makes no secret that preparing for infowar is a top military
priority, he said.
In its 2000 annual report, South Korea's Ministry of National Defense
said a 5 percent budget increase was allocated mainly for projects such
as "the buildup of the core capability needed for coping with advanced
scientific and information warfare."
The report also revealed that South Korea's military has 177 "computer
training facilities" and had trained more than 200,000 "information
Meanwhile, in North Korea the lack of basic necessities, such as a
reliable electrical grid, presents huge obstacles to creating an
information-technology infrastructure, according to Peter Hayes,
executive director of the Nautilus Institute, which published a recent
study of North Korea's IT aspirations.
Trade sanctions -- not to mention North Korea's guiding philosophy of
"juche," or self-reliance -- have further isolated the DPRK from the
Internet and many technological advances, said Hayes.
As a result, North Korea has been assigned only two "class C" blocks of
Internet addresses, none of which currently appear active, according to
data from the American Registry for Internet Numbers and Asia Pacific
Network Information Centre. The DPRK's limited connection to the
Internet reportedly comes from satellite links provided by a company in
South Korea, and by land lines from China.
Similarly, North Korea's designated top-level domain, .kp, never has
been implemented. The nation has only a handful of websites -- the most
sophisticated being an online gambling site -- none of which are hosted
in North Korea. Servers in China and Japan host the sites.
While Net surfing is available only to a privileged few of the 22
million North Koreans, leader Kim Jong Il is said to be a big fan of
information technology. The dictator surprised many when he asked
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for her e-mail address during a
historic visit in 2000.
Yet, despite being mostly disconnected from the Internet, North Korea
reportedly has developed a vast intranet linking government offices
throughout the country.
The DPRK has software development expertise that is "competent, if not
world class," according to Hayes. He notes that programmers in North
Korea's Pyongyang Informatics Center have done contract work for local
governments and businesses in Japan and South Korea to develop a wide
variety of software.
In fact, some in the Department of Defense have recently considered
North Korea a viable infowar threat. In a 1997 Pentagon war game called
"Eligible Receiver," National Security Agency computer specialists posed
as North Korean hackers and reportedly were able to disrupt
command-and-control elements of the U.S. Pacific Command.
The following year, Pentagon adviser and Rand consultant John Arquilla
concocted a fictional scenario, published in Wired magazine, of a global
cyberwar engineered by -- whom else -- the North Koreans.
In March 2001, a task force of the Defense Science Board concluded (PDF)
that the Department of Defense was unable to defend itself "from an
information operations attack by a sophisticated nation state
Experts are split, however, on whether North Korea's hacker-soldiers
currently pose a serious threat to the U.S. military.
Should war occur on the Korean peninsula, a cyberattack by North Korea
could disrupt the ability of U.S. troops to provide support, according
to Arquilla. Such an attack would not necessarily emanate from North
Korea's limited network.
"There are many places around the world from which (North Korea) could
conduct cyberwar, places that have all the connectivity needed, and
more," said Arquilla.
Arquilla said highly automated U.S. military processes, such as the "air
tasking order" of an air campaign, or time- phased deployment of troops
and equipment, could be disrupted by a North Korean cyberattack.
"In such cases, the disruption of American combat operations and
logistics could make a very substantial difference in the overall
military campaign," said Arquilla.
Mansourov, however, said North Korea is unlikely to be focusing its
scarce IT resources on the development of a crew of hacker-soldiers.
"The Chinese are very good at this and have the resources to do it. But
I don't think the KPA spends its efforts there. They are more focused on
development of missile guidance and C4i (command-and-control systems),"
Hayes said he believes North Korean hackers would not be able to create
serious harm to the U.S. military's mission-critical systems, which are
decentralized and largely insulated from the Internet.
"I'm sure they can get into some systems at a low level and maybe divert
some things," said Hayes. "But in the big picture, a few hackers are not
going to stop the flow of American men and material in a major war in
On the other hand, North Korea's highly centralized IT systems are prone
to "amplifying and propagating bad military decisions" and are an easy
target for physical attacks by smart bombs and other means, according to
As for South Korea's recent claim that Pyongyang is ready to create
"cyberterror," a State Department representative said North Korea is not
known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since 1987, when a Korean
airliner was bombed in flight.
Spokesman Lou Fintor said, however, that the State Department
nonetheless remains "disappointed" with North Korea's response to
international efforts to combat terrorism.
While details of North Korea's infowar force are available only in
fiction and propaganda, Arquilla is convinced that the country may have
marshaled a world-class offensive infowar capability.
"I believe that the North Koreans, whatever their limitations, have a
capacity to think deeply and innovatively about military affairs," he
said. "And what I have observed over the years convinces me that they
are devoting considerable attention to cyberwar."
HSFK Hessische Stiftung für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
PRIF Peace Research Institute Frankfurt
Leimenrode 29 60322 Frankfurt a/M Germany
Tel +49 (0)69 9591 0422 Fax +49 (0)69 5584 81
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