from the free-basement-with-pizza dept.
Ju-Min Park and James Pearson report at Reuters that despite its poverty and isolation, North Korea has poured resources into a sophisticated cyber-warfare cell called Bureau 121, staffed by some of the most talented, and rewarded, people in North Korea, handpicked and trained from as young as 17. "They are hand-picked," says Kim Heung-kwang, a former computer science professor in North Korea who defected to the South in 2004. "It is a great honor for them. It is a white-collar job there and people have fantasies about it." The hackers in Bureau 121 were among the 100 students who graduate from the University of Automation each year after five years of study. Over 2,500 apply for places at the university, which has a campus in Pyongyang, behind barbed wire.
According to Jang Se-yul, who studied with them at North Korea's military college for computer science, Bureau 121 unit comprises about 1,800 cyber-warriors, and is considered the elite of the military. North Korea's ‘cyber-warriors’ are very honored in the country. As well as their salaries which are far above the country’s average, they are often gifted with good food, luxuries and even apartments. According to John Griasafi, this kind of treatment could be expected for those working in the elite Bureau. “You’d have to be pretty special and well trusted to even be allowed on email in North Korea so I have no doubt that they are treated well too.”
Pyongyang has active cyber-warfare capabilities, military and software security experts have said. In 2013 tens of thousands of computers were made to malfunction, disrupting work at banks and television broadcasters in South Korea. "For them, the strongest weapon is cyber. In North Korea, it’s called the Secret War," says Jang.