As North Korea comes under the microscope following a crippling Sony Pictures Entertainment leak, Reuters says hackers in the isolated nation are part of the “pampered elite.” “Rewarded” is a word used to describe them; they’re effectively the prized ponies of the hyper-mysterious foreign world.
Even as a large majority of the country lives in poverty, leaders there have poured resources into something called “Bureau 121,” a ring of cyber-warfare whiz-kids. Some, handpicked and trained by the military, are as young as 17 years old.
A North Korean defector said Bureau 121 includes some of the country’s most talented computer experts, and is often used to sabotage (or spy on) its enemies. North Korea has officially denied its involvement in the Sony hack, though it’s still being considered a suspect by the U.S. National Security Council. One defector, Jang Se-yul, who studied computer science at the University of Automation, said North Korea considers cyber as one of its biggest weapons. Only about 100 students graduate from the university, which is surrounded by barbed wire, each year.
Defected computer science professor, Kim Heung-kwang, told Reuters members of Bureau 121 are handpicked. “It is a great honor for them. It is a white-collar job there and people have fantasies about it.”
“In North Korea, it’s called the Secret War,” Jang said, referring to the country’s cyber activity.
North Korea is suspected because of the country’s anger over a movie, The Interview, which is being released by Sony Pictures this Christmas. A report from earlier this week claimed Sony would officially accuse North Korea as the responsible party, though a Sony spokeswoman said no such announcement was coming.