News reports pin the recent spate of cyberattacks against government Web sites in South Korea and the United States on North Korea.
And an internal paper published in May by an intelligence analyst at U.S. Forces Korea said North Korean hackers penetrated U.S. military networks and Web sites with greater frequency than any other country in the world, including China.
The paper, written by Army Maj. Steve Sin, a senior analyst at the Open Source Intelligence Branch of the Directorate of Intelligence at U.S. Forces Korea, said North Korea operates two cyber warfare units: the State Security Agency's electronic communications monitoring and computer hacking outfit, and Unit 121, which is part of the Reconnaissance Bureau. The bureau's staff works directly for the General Staff Department of the Ministry of People's Armed Forces.
Unit 121's staff of about 100, Sin said, has the capability to launch "moderately advanced" Distributed Denial of Service attacks, the kind that took down South Korean and U.S. government Web sites this week. The attacks this week, though, sure give a new meaning to the word moderate. Unit 121 also has moderate ability to infect target computers with viruses and malicious code, Sin added.
North Korea has cyber warfare capabilities that could damage the military networks of the U.S. Pacific Command and those located in the continental United States and networks operated by South Korean and U.S forces in South Korea, Sin reported.
Sin traced North Korean activities back to at least 2004, when he said the country "tapped into 33 out of 80 military wireless communications networks used by 14 different ROK [Republic of Korea] units during the Corps level field exercises and the ROK-US combined Ulchi-Focus Lens exercise."
While the cyber warriors at the North Korean State Security agency labor away in the Korean Computer Center in the rather grim capitol of Pyongyang, Sin said at least some of the Unit 121 personnel work in a luxury hotel owned, he said, by the North Korean government in Shenyang, China, about a three-hour drive north from its border with North Korea.
I'm not going to name the hotel here (you can find it in Sin's report), but Web sites for the 160-room, four-star establishment portray it as quite a spiffy place, decorated in a "traditional Chinese theme that is stimulating, while comforting at the same time. The pastel hues and new furnishings are ideal for travelers that want calm surroundings."
Based on what I have read, this does not sound like standard North Korean housing. The Shenyang hotel, which houses the North Korean hackers, also features wireless Internet access, a must for anyone in their line of work, as well as a restaurant that serves Chinese food, the favored grub of hackers worldwide.