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  • Yoon Su-hyeon

[North Korea] Hacking of North Korea, by North Korea, for North Korea

No.163 / Apr 17, 2023

Have you ever thought about the chances that you might be the target of North Korean hackers? Probably not. However, you should start looking out for yourself online or carefully check emails, because North Korean hackers could be coming after you. The government and anyone could be the target for North Korean hackers as they keep expanding their field of operations.

Although there are individual hackers, North Korean hackers generally work within intricately organized groups such as TA444 and Lazarus. Most of these teams operate under the North Korean government. Historically, hacking in North Korea was aimed at obtaining military secrets, confidential information, or cutting-edge technology from foreign adversaries. In the current times, it is more broadly used only for snatching foreign exchange. Therefore, any foreigners could be the hacker’s target. According to Chainalysis, an American blockchain analysis firm, North Korean hackers have been the biggest cybercriminals over the last several years. Solely in 2022, it is estimated that they took 1.7 billion dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency. It is nearly 44% of the entire virtual asset hacking amounting to 3.8 billion dollars. In contrast, North Korea’s total export of goods in 2020 was worth approximately 142 million dollars. Thus, it is fair to say that hacking covers a great bulk of the nation’s economy. Furthermore, most experts believe the North Korean government uses the stolen money to support its development of nuclear weapons. Reportedly, one successful hacking project provides enough fortune to shoot 31 missiles.

To make this possible, the government exploits young children gifted with handling computers under the name of compensation for fostering them. Children selected by the government receive highly intensive computer and hacking-related education early on. The systematic education specialized in developing hackers enabled North Korea to produce one of the most outstanding hackers worldwide. In 2022, Kim Il-sung University announced that their students won for seven consecutive times in Code Chef, a programming competition held by an Indian software company for students globally. The North Korean government has put considerable efforts into promoting its hackers. Although it is known that the hackers must be strictly committed to the government and their family members are kept under constant surveillance, they can earn enough fortune to make a living, unlike many people in North Korea. Therefore, becoming a hacker is a dream for most students in North Korea. At a press conference on November 21, 2022, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) of South Korea underlined that “In South Korea, students who study well go to medical school, but those in North Korea enter the IT field and undergo a comprehensive training under the control of the military.”

Lim Jong-in, a chair professor at Korea University’s Graduate School of Information Security, who served as a special advisor for security at the Blue House, highlighted that, “We need to strengthen practical cooperation between South Korea and the United States to stabilize cyberspace.” South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense claimed in the 2022 Defense White Paper that, as North Korean hackers broaden their territory in cyberspace, it is crucial to step up not only in physical defense but also in cybersecurity.


By Yoon Su-hyeon, AG Cub Reporter

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