Posts tagged North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity
A hackathon that aimed to find new ways to get information in, out and around North Korea took place over the weekend in San Francisco. The event, called “Hack North Korea,” was organized by New York-based charity Human Rights Foundation and brought together programmers, human rights campaigners and defectors.
Several teams spent the weekend working on ideas that would enable digital information to be concealed, hidden or otherwise transmitted without raising the suspicion of authorities. The ideas ran from the low-tech, using a catapult to fling things across the Yalu River that divides North Korea and China, to the high-tech, involving satellites, stenography and information hidden so a random check wouldn’t reveal it.
The weekend kicked off with speeches from four North Korean defectors who had made the trip from Seoul to attend the event.
They included Park Yeon Mi, best known for her appearances on the South Korean TV show “New On My Way To Meet You,” who spoke of how watching a smuggled copy of the movie “Titanic” spurred her to make the long journey most defectors must make from North Korea through China to South Korea.
Park Sang Hak, chairman of Fighters for a Free North Korea, spoke about his program to send leaflets into North Korea via balloon. Park’s organization regularly releases balloons carrying large bags full of propaganda leaflets, DVDs, USB sticks, radios and other items from a point near the inter-Korean border. The bags are timed to release their contents after a certain period of time over North Korean soil and Park sent around 4- to 5-million last year, he said.
Choi Song Il, a former North Korean dentist, joined the North Korean Strategy Center upon his arrival in South Korea and still conducts activities along the Chinese border today, helping research the current state of North Korea through talks with defectors that have made it out of the country.
And Kim Heung Kwang (김흥광), a former professor at Pyongyang Computer Technology University and executive director of North Korea Intellectual Solidarity, spoke about the importance of foreign information in the country and how it could educate people and help the free thinking of individuals.
The hackathon saw several groups contend for a prize of two round-trip air tickets to Seoul to further their work with defector groups. The Human Rights Foundation also said it would assist in realizing the top proposal.
The winner was a group that proposed using small, commercial satellite antennas to bring Skylife TV to North Korea. Skylife is a subscription satellite TV service offering around 100 channels of news, entertainment, sports and other programming. The group proposed using compact flat antennas and supposed that the service would be unlikely to be jammed because it would first penetrate the homes of elites and they wouldn’t want to lose service.
Here are YouTube videos of the speeches:
Several South Korean websites that specialize in reporting on North Korean issues were hit by cyber attackers on Tuesday, they said late the same day.
Daily NK and Free North Korea Radio both confirmed the attacks in articles posted on their sites. They were said to begin at 2pm local time (0500 UTC) and resulted in the sites being unavailable for some time.
“The attack was aimed at databases and was designed to blow away the entire system. Based on this, we can say that their target was clearly pre-ordained and the aim was to completely incapacitate it,” the Daily NK said in an article on its site.
Access to both sites has since been restored.
The Daily NK also reported that the websites of NKnet and NK Intellectuals Solidarity were also attacked. The former is currently online but the latter cannot be accessed.
The attacks came on the third anniversary of the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan. The ship broke in two and sank near the maritime border with North Korea causing the deaths of 40 sailors and leaving six missing and presumed dead. North Korea denied involvement but an international investigation said the Cheonan sank after being hit with a torpedo fired from the North Korean submarine.
They are the latest in a recent series of cyber attacks and incidents in the two countries.
North Korea’s Internet connection was severely disrupted for almost two days from March 13 to March 15. The country’s state-run news agency, KCNA, accused the U.S. and its allies of launching an attack, but little evidence was provided or has been found to determine exactly what happened.
Then last week an estimated 26,000 PCs at three major South Korean TV broadcasters and three banks were hit by malicious software that wiped their hard disk drives. South Korean investigators are still looking into the attacks and have yet to determine their source.
North Korea is continuing to strengthen its ranks of elite hackers and could have up to 3,000 of them, a North Korean defector said in Seoul on Wednesday. (Update: New information below)
Kim Heung-kwang, a former professor at Pyongyang Computer Technology University and member of the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity group, told a cyber security conference that North Korea likely has around 3,000 hackers, according to local news reports.
The state previously had around 500, but raised the number last year when the cyber warfare unit saw its status raised, Yonhap reported him as saying. The unit sits under the Reconnaissance General Bureau.
Kim told the Joong Ang Ilbo that students with computer skills are identified at a young age and sent to a middle school in Pyongyang where those skills are further developed.
The students then progress to Kim Il Sung University or the Kim Chaek University of Technology and some are even sent abroad to perfect their skills, he told the newspaper.
Kim said North Korea realized that building the ranks of cyberwarriors “costs less money than to train Army or Air Force soldiers.”
He said North Korea uses IP addresses from China for its attacks, making them difficult to trace. – The Joong Ang Ilbo, June 2, 2011.
North Korea has been blamed for a string of recent cyber attacks against South Korean banks, companies and government institutions.
Earlier this week, the South Korean military said it believed hackers in North Korea had sent e-mail messages containing malicious attachments to around 60 graduates of a military school. The extent of that hacking incident and the damage are still being evaluated.
Update 1: The Daily NK has more details from the cyber security conference, including details of North Korea’s supposed hacking center and its location. The online publication quotes information from an unnamed defector, who didn’t attend the conference out of fears for his safety.
According to the report, the hacking center is called the “No. 91 Office” and is located in a two-storey building in Dangsang-dong in the Mangkyungdae-district of Pyongyang. He defector claimed to have been inside the building several times.
In 2006, the center had a staff of about 80, all in their 20s and 30s with the exception of the leadership. The staff came from Kim Il Sung University, Chosun Computer University, Kim Chaek University of Technology and other elite schools. They frequently spoke of travel to Shenyang and Dandong in China.
An affiliated trading company, “May 18th Trading Company,” obtained equipment needed for the No.91 Office to carry out its work.