North Korea is aggressively beefing up its cyber warfare capabilities by adding child prodigies to its 3,000-strong special hacker unit targeting South Korea and its allies, an expert said Tuesday, citing the testimonies of North Korean defectors.
Pyongyang regularly screens math and science prodigies to train them to be cyber experts through state-led education programs at home and abroad, according to Steven Kim, a professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.
Kim said the selected elementary school students go through grueling training sessions including internal competitions at well-equipped facilities. Successful candidates get extra training in China and Russia and come back to North Korea to join the cyber operations, he said during a speech at the Korea Economic Institute of America in Washington, D.C.
Kim said the North was escalating the level of its cyber provocations as its online attacks could undermine the social and financial infrastructure of the South, one of the world’s most-wired countries.
North Korea, saddled with outdated online and mobile networks, faces no risk in waging cyber warfare against South Korea. “Pyongyang has nothing to lose. Even if South Korea wants to retaliate … there’s nothing to attack,” Kim said.
According to a report released by South Korea’s Defense Ministry, Pyongyang’s recent cyber attacks against Seoul, including distributed denial-of-service attacks, is estimated to have caused losses worth 860 billion won ($810 million) since 2009.
“We only have about 400 cyber warfare experts and struggle with a tight budget while North Korea has secured 3,000 professional hackers for its cyber warfare unit,” said Rep. Chung Hee-soo of the ruling Saenuri Party who received the data from the ministry during a parliamentary audit in October.
Steven Kim warned that the Korean Peninsula was likely to confront a dangerous and unprecedented cyber clash as the North has been stepping up its online attacks since 2008.
In July, the South Korean government unveiled a national cyber security plan, which will help strengthen its local information security market, add more cyber experts and research ways to block North Korean attacks.
By Park Han-na (email@example.com