North Korea Looking for a Few Good Cyber Warriors

By Steve Anderson March 25, 2013

The world these days, in many forms, runs on computers. From those who use them for play, to those who use them for work, to those who let them run themselves in a bid to provide necessary services like the power grid or water maintenance, it’s a pretty critical medium.

If one of those computers goes down, it's a hardship for all involved. If they all go, disaster.

That may be exactly what North Korea is looking to do though, according to some new reports that suggest the nation is looking for a new kind of "cyber warrior" to embark on a new kind of warfare.

The reports are corroborates, at least somewhat, by recent measures taken against South Korea. Over 32,000 computers and servers went down at three South Korean television networks and three banks just last Wednesday, after being hit by a flood of malware. While no one's sure exactly who was behind the sudden spike of malware that killed off their hardware, and dealt a bit of a blow to communications and banking in the region – an investigation is already underway but results may well take weeks to resolve – many are already looking at North Korea.

Yet some of the malware has reportedly already been traced back to one computer, operating out of Seoul, South Korea. Further examples of the malicious code have been discovered from three different European nations, as well as the United States itself, according to reports. But South Korea has been suspicious of its northern neighbors in the past, with fingers pointed squarely at the North for six different cyber attacks since 2009.

South Korea was recently spotted even going so far as to create a cyber security command center specifically to repel attacks from their hostile neighbors.

The chief of South Korea's National Intelligence Service in 2010, Won Sei-hoon, projected the total number of "cyber warriors" – professional hackers – at North Korea's disposal at 1,000, though how the number has changed since then is unclear. A former North Korean national, Kim Heung-kwang, claimed to have been involved in training said hackers at a university in Hamhung, North Korea, for 20 years ahead of his defection in 2003 – and that more such hackers have since been recruited.

Whether or not North Korea is directly at fault for the hackings and the malware is still unknown, but one thing that's quite clear is that the use of cyber attacks like these are quite effective, and cost far less than the training and maintenance of a full armed force of standard warfare tools. The attacks can be carried off anonymously – fabricating IP addresses is said to be comparatively simple for skilled users, and evidence can also be removed as needed – and the attacks can do a lot of damage for that lower cost.

Consider this: an attack is pulled off against a target that shuts down its banking system for several hours. Now not only has opportunity been lost to make money, and employees have had to be paid for their time regardless, but now an investigation needs to be launched – which costs money – that may or may not turn anything up. Meanwhile, what did it cost the attackers? Some time to train the hacker and launch the attack, some money to keep the lights and computers and Internet access going, which adds up to a whole lot of bang for not a lot of buck.

It's a tempting weapon to have on hand, and one that will likely see more action in the years to come.

Edited by Braden Becker

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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