Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Outbreak of Cyberwar in Korea?

In one of the profound ironies of the dawning information age, it appears possible that North Korea has again attacked South Korea, but this time in cyberspace, rather than across the DMZ.  The irony stems from the fact that South Korea has the world's highest levels of broadband internet usage is by far the most densely networked nation on earth, if measured in terms of fiber optic and wireless digital networks.  The attacking nation, North Korea, ranks near last in the world on measures of internet access and usage.  This is not surprising, considering its government takes great pains to insulate ordinary North Korean citizens from outside information.  Television and radio sets are wired and periodically inspected to receive only permitted channels.  Videocasettes, DVDs and mobile telephones have been prohibited and heavy penalties, up to and including death, have been exacted for their use.  Only this year, it is reported that up to 40,000 North Koreans have subscribed to the new mobile system being built by Orascom Telecom.
According to sources in both Korea and the U.S., the denial of service attacks which disrupted some government and other high-profile websites in both South Korea and the United States, may well have originated in North Korea.    In an article on "North Korea's Powerful Hacker Army," the Chosun Ilbo notes that the North Korean regime is believed to emply from 500 to 1,000 trained hackers who attack from third countries, including China.  The article suggests that the North Korean regime recruits hackers mainly from Pyongyang Automation University, also known as Mirim University, Kim Chaek University of Technology, or Pyongyang University of Computer Technology.  The first of these schools belongs to the general staff of the People's Army, has about 700 students and about 500-600 faculty and staff.  It graduates about 100 professionals every year.  The North Korean army also maintains a bureau under the General Staff to manage hackers and develop software.  Reportedly, data compiled by the U.S. Defense department shows that North Koreans are among the most frequent visitors to many of their Defense Department websites.
If the recent cyber attacks in South Korea and the U.S. indeed originated with North Korea, one can only imagine what sort of counter-attack the South and its allies are capable of, should they choose that option.

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