In an exclusive interview to BBC, a key defector of the North Korean regime, Prof Kim Heung-Kwang, has given an updated overview of Pyongyang cyber capabilities.
He has taught computer science at Hamheung Computer Technology University for 20 years before escaping the country in 2004, and despite he did not teach directly hacking techniques, his former students are believed to have formed North Korea’s infamous hacking unit Bureau 121, a cyberwarfare agency.
According to Professor Heung-Kwang, the size of Bureau 121 has increased significantly, and now it has approximately 6,000 people. Additionally he reports that a percentage of the regime’s military budget between 10% and 20% is regularly spent on online operations whose purpose is to demonstrate that North Korea has cyber war capacity.
On the other hand, there are few doubts about the North Korean cyberwfare capabilities, following last year’s Sony Pictures hack, and more recently the attack to North Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power plant. Not two simple isolated cases, but the latest examples of an ongoing cyber conflict.
Less recent events include the spree of cyber attacks that regularly happen during the anniversary of the start of the Korean War., among which particularly remarkable is the January 2013 series, during the 63rd anniversary, culminating in March of the same year with the infamous DarkSeoul malware attack, capable to wipe the Hard-Drive of 32,000 endpoints belonging to South Korean broadcasters and banks.
According to Mr. Heung-Kwang, North Korea is developing cyber weapons 1 that could soon cross the boundary of cyber space and have similar impacts in the real world as military attacks, killing people and destroying cities, similarly to what happened with Stuxnet (of which North Korea is allegedly developing a clone) whose reported effects include large-scale accidents and loss of lifes (but also more recently there have been examples of similar attacks causing confirmed physical damages).
Mr. Heung-Kwang is so convinced of the threat posed by Pyongyang, that he suggests drastic measures, like banning Korea from the Internet.