North Korea’s cyber warriors target Western critical infrastructure

Cyber warfareNorth Korea’s cyber warriors target Western critical infrastructure
Published 6 March 2015

North Korea has a team of roughly 3,000 cyber soldiers dedicated to launching attacks at Western interests in the private and government sector, according to Kim Heung-gwang, a former professor at North Korea’s Hamhung University of Computer Technology, a key military training facility. Heung-gwang, urging Western governments to do more to counter North Korean hacking, said the country’s hackers are targeting Western nuclear power plants, transportation networks, and electrical utilities.

North Korea has a team of roughly 3,000 cyber soldiers dedicated to launching attacks at Western interests in the private and government sector, according to Kim Heung-gwang, a former professor at North Korea’s Hamhung University of Computer Technology, a key military training facility. “North Korea’s ultimate goal in cyber strategy is to be able to attack national infrastructure of South Korea and the United States,” Heung-gwang said to Reuters in 2014.
Heung-gwang was arrested in North Korea on charges of possessing banned films and sent to labor camps to work in the fields for a year as punishment. He escaped the county by bribing a border guard and swimming across the Tumen River to China. He later resettled in South Korea, where he now heads North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a group dedicated to promoting democracy and human rights in North Korea.
Heung-gwang, urging Western governments to do more to counter North Korean hacking, said the country’s hackers are targeting Western nuclear power plants, transportation networks, and electrical utilities. “If all of this happens, North Korea is going to destroy the basic units of civil society, and we need to react strongly to prevent this,” he said, speaking through an interpreter at a conference in Seoul hosted by theWashington Times. “Concerning North Korea’s cyberterrorism, only when the government is involved can this issue be solved.”
According to CNN News, Unit 121 is North Korea’s cyberwarfare organization, and is part of the country’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, an intelligence and covert operations component of the Korean People’s Army. The National Security Agency (NSA) has confirmed that analysis of the software code used in the 2014 Sony hacks was traced to North Koreans. Those cyberattacks stole proprietary information and destroyed computer hard drives belonging to the company. Asked whether North Korea is sophisticated enough to conduct cyberattacks against U.S. government assets, Heung-gwang said “When you have thousands of people working against the firewalls of Sony, then you can see that it is not so difficult to breach Sony’s security.”
Heung-gwang added that the Sony Pictures cyberattacks were similar to hacks launched by North Korea against South Korean banks and news media outlets in 2013. “I saw a few signs and felt that it was North Korea,” he said. For its part, South Korea has increased monitoring of critical infrastructure. “We have been more vigilant since last year’s hacking on banks,” said an official at the state-run Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co Ltd which is responsible for about 40 percent of the country’s electric power supply. “We have separated networks for internal use from the outside.”

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