Interviewer: The American news channel Fox News reported that North Korea's hacking abilities have become menacing enough to damage U.S. national defense networks. We will be looking into how much cyber military strength the North possesses and how it operates. The Chairman of North Korea Strategic Information Service Center, Yun-keol Lee, is here. Welcome, Mr. Lee.
Yun-keol Lee, Chairman of NKSIS: Thank you, hello.
Interviewer: It is being reported that North Korea possesses 30,000 electronic warfare agents with capabilities rivaling those of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA.) How do you see this?
Lee: Based on my first-hand experience in the North and the result of our latest research, North Korea's current cyber warfare capabilities reside in the strategy department of the Central Party and the General Bureau of Reconnaissance under the North Korean Army's Ministry of General Staff. The two bureaux have been merged recently. Within it, there are 1,500 hacking specialists. If we include other agents belonging to departments such as the one involved in the last GPS disturbance operation, it is reasonable to calculate that there are 30,000 electronic warfare agents in total.
Interviewer: 30,000 is a huge number. Can't we assume from the fact that 30,000 agents are operating, and that their abilities rival that of the CIA that the North had been strategically developing the force for cyber warfare?
Lee: Yes, we can. The North has been preparing for the cyber warfare ever since 1986, when a computer science department was created within Likwa University and Kim Chaek University of Technology. But to be more precise, it began in 1991, when a unit specializing in cyber warfare was formed under the Army's Ministry of General Staff. Since then, an average of 150 hacking specialists have been produced a year, as well as 600~700 agents belonging to the related departments. That is why it is possible to estimate that they now have 30,000 cyber warfare related agents altogether.
Interviewer: Who is in charge of operating the 30,000 strong special force? Should we assume that they are operated by a core group of the military?
Lee: Right. According to my recent investigation of the movements within North Korean regime, Kim Jong-un is one of the key figures, as well as his right-hand man who graduated from Likwa University. That person taught computer operations to Kim Jong-chul and Jong-un.
Interviewer: So can we say that Kim Jong-un himself is managing the force directly, and that his intentions are reflected by its actions?
Lee: Yes, it is entirely possible.
Interviewer: Cyber attacks do occur within the South as well. What are the North’s capabilities compared to the South Korean specialists?
Lee: As far as I know, they select the brightest talents to develop hacking skills. During their training, the students master not only computer programming languages such as C+, C++, Java, and Pascal, but also applied mathematics. Because of their knowledge of applied math, I think their capabilities could surpass that of South Korean specialists. A few of my relatives in the North are also trained as hackers.
Interviewer: I see. And I wonder, what do those 30,000 agents do on an everyday basis when they are not in operation?
Lee: I think that they would be being trained in preparation for operations.
Interviewer: You mean that they are receiving training, or are actually planting certain codes in order to prepare for the next operation?
Lee: Yes. NKSIS had already warned about the recent cyber attacks launched against Nonghyub Bank, right after the March 4th DDoS attacks on the major South Korean website this year. I have concrete evidence that the North had been preparing for it since May 2009, recruiting a great number of zombie computers.
Interviewers: Some insist that decent hackers would never leave a trace. That if we can indeed point out North Korea as the culprit, such incompetent activity would not even count as 'hacking.'
Lee: In my opinion, even a hacker cannot erase the IP address he used, such as ISP or ICP, to get into the system. According to one key figure involved in the July 7th DDoS attack, you cannot absolutely protect certain parts of cyber space from invasion, since internet space is created by the network between computers, or client-server. So depending on one's ability, technologically speaking, it is impossible to completely prevent invasion.
Interviewers: I see. So, anyways, North Korea is being pinpointed as a culprit for various cyber attacks, and they are strategically training hackers, operating them in military units. Yet, they have officially denied that they launched the attacks. It seems like we should be prepared. How prepared are we for their attacks? And if indeed the North is able to launch massive cyber attacks on us, how serious will they be?
Lee: Based on my understanding and recent events, just the fact that one of the largest banks in South Korea with 30 million customers was hit, and that 273 servers disappeared for 5 minutes, tells us that we must not underestimate the North's capabilities.
Interviewer: I want to hear a little bit about Kim Jong-il now. His myriad power abuses and practice of taking concubines has been pointed up and criticized. It is said that he has 9 more children besides his 5 officially known children.
Lee: Regardless of how many children he has, from what I heard from my relatives in the North, Kim Jong-il even took one of my close acquaintances as his concubine, even though she was a married woman.
Interviewer: Times reported on Kim kidnapping and keeping concubines. It mentioned Kim alongside International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, listing them as the top 10 abusers of power. Do you think this also explains the kidnapping of South Korean actress Choi Eun-hui all those years ago?
Lee: We can officially prove that case. It took place in 1978, and a lot of people know what happened. I know that the strategy department of the Central Party was mobilized for it.
Interviewer: Are North Korean civilians aware of this?
Lee: Though they don't talk about it openly, most of them know. Civilians may not know all the specifics, but high-ranking officials do. They could hear it from her fellow actors and actresses who shot films together.
Interviewer: It seems like North Korean civilians are all aware of Kim Jong-il's secrets though he has tried to hide them. We have looked into the strength of the North Korean cyber warfare force, and the cases of Kim Jong-il's power abuse with Yun-keol Lee, the chairman of NKSIS. Thank you.
Lee: Thank you.
Translation by Hoyeon Choi Supervised by Danny Lee
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