Bureau 121, North Korea’s elite cyber hacking unit

Bureau 121, North Korea’s elite cyber-warfare cell behind the Sony Hacks?

As more and more leaks pour out of Sony Pictures hack attack, the cyber criminals who hacked it are still at large.  Preliminary investigations have pointed fingers towards a disk wiping malware which may have been sponsored by North Korea.  North Korea has meanwhile denied any hand in the Sony Pictures hack attack.  However the US law enforcement agencies still consider it as a prime suspect behind the Sony hack.

Reuters today reported a sophisticated North Korean cyber-warfare cell called Bureau 121. Most of the information about Bureau 121 is obtained from North Korean defectors to South Korea as North Korea is a iron curtain country with severe restrictions any travel to and fro.

Bureau 121

The specially created Bureau 121 comprises of around 1800 hard coded cyber warriors.  It comes under the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, an elite spy agency run by the North Korean military. Reuters contacted Jang Se-yul who was working with them at  North Korea’s military college for computer science, or the University of Automation, before defecting to the South six years ago.  He stated that the Bureau 121 hackers were most talented and rewarded personnel within the North Korean military.

“For them, the strongest weapon is cyber. In North Korea, it’s called the Secret War,” Jang said.

Rich life in Poor North Korea

However poor and desolate North Korea might be, its ruling junta awards the Bureau with best lifestyle, it can afford as per Jang. One of his friend who is working undercover for Bureau 121 has been a large state-allocated apartment in an upscale part of Pyongyang, which is a super luxury in the war torn and scheduled red country penalised with economic sanctions for its nuclear proliferation.

“No one knows … his company runs business as usual. That’s why what he does is scarier,” Jang said. “My friend, who belongs to a rural area, could bring all of his family to Pyongyang. Incentives for North Korea’s cyber experts are very strong … they are rich people in Pyongyang.”

He said 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.

“They are handpicked,” said Kim Heung-kwang, a former computer science professor in North Korea who defected to the South in 2004, referring to the state hackers. “It is a great honor for them. It is a white-collar job there and people have fantasies about it.”

Resource : Reuters

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