North Korea, unlike most of its Asian counterparts, remains poorly connected; and not just in terms of internet connection. The country is said to be poorly lit that at night it looks like a black spot from the space.
Then you ask yourself, how did a country that poorly connected become a name to be feared when it comes to cybersecurity?
There is little doubt that even countries with advanced cybersecurity intelligence and protection put North Korea high up on its watch list. That includes countries such as the U.S., Israel, and European countries.
Some of North Korea greatest hacking conquests
The first time the country rose to the global radar of hacking was back in 2014 when hackers from North Korea penetrated Sony Pictures Entertainment while trying to prevent the release of ‘The Interview.’ The movie was about a U.S. secret mission to kill North Korea supreme leader, Kim Jong Uh.
Ever since hackers from North Korea have moved on to make one brazen hacking attack after another. And with it, have risen to become one of the most revered hackers in the world; achieving hacking stardom.
In 2016, North Korean hackers made away with $81 million from the central bank of Bangladesh. They have hit targets in destinations such as Mexico, Vietnam, Poland, and South Korea.
In May 2017, North Korean hackers set lose the WannaCry ransomware that took down computers across 150 countries. They did it by unleashing a cyber-tool that the U.S. top intelligence agency lost.
In September 2017, the hackers were said to have attempted to get access to U.S. electric utilities, and just last week, they were accused of trying to hack into the rail system in Toronto.
Underestimate North Korea at your peril
“They are more effective than we give them credit for,” warns Priscilla Moriuchi, a former NSA cyber threats expert in East Asia and now the Director of Strategic Threat Development at Recorded Future.
What makes North Korea so lethal source of hackers, is that most people are quick to dismiss them; and rightfully so. The country is so isolated, internet penetration is so low, and even social amenities like electricity supply to homes is so poor.
How do African countries come into the picture?
North Korea leadership has a bad habit of making enemies with virtually everyone. Its diplomatic relationship with its immediate neighbor and who should be its ally, South Korea is terrible. The country is continuously provoking the U.S. into nuclear war, and its relationship with European countries is far from friendly.
Somehow, it has managed to make good friends with China where it has set up several investments including a high-rise hotel in Shenyang. The hotel has grown into high-end markets across Africa and other countries in South Asia.
It is believed that these hotels act as a front for its lethal hacking training. Unlike the Silicon Valley where individuality seems to be celebrated. Hackers from North Korea are forged from an early age by an all-seeing Leninist state. The state has managed to set up a hacking pipeline, by identifying kids exceptionally gifted in subjects such as math, science, and technology right at middle school.
The kids are then funneled into one or two universities; believed to be the Kim II Sung University and the Kim Chaek University of Technology. From there they are trained in advanced computer science skills, which is eventually turned into lethal hacking skills. The most promising students are then sent overseas, often to Shenyang, China where North Korea has the most substantial overseas investment.
Kenya and Mozambique harboring North Korean hackers
The young hackers practice their hacking skills from overseas; where they also enjoy plenty of IT infrastructure as their playing grounds. In addition to China, the hackers are also taken to countries like India, Indonesia, Nepal and New Zealand. In Africa, North Koreans find safe havens in Kenya and Mozambique.
In all these overseas countries, the young hackers pass off as employees working in North Korean installations such as high-end restaurants and other legitimate businesses. While in reality, the hackers’ core business there is to horn their hacking skills and go after specific targets when instructed.
As of today, the country is believed to have between 3,000 to 6,000 hackers in the pipeline. That is according to the Congressional Research Service report ‘North Korean Cyber Capabilities’ released back in August 3rd, 2017.