Authorities and experts, alongside defectors from the North say the country’s communist neighbour may be taking its war with the South from the trenches to the cyber-sphere – seeing it as a more effective way to topple its capitalist enemy.
South Korea has one of the most advanced IT infrastructures on the planet, offering the world’s cheapest access to the fastest internet connection anywhere. Approximately 95 per cent of its near 50 million citizens surf the web – a statistic virtually unmatched by any other country.
Despite being so technologically advanced, however, the country continues to suffer from ongoing cyber-attacks, which authorities say are from North Korea.
Seoul has identified the assaults as part of the North’s plans to strategically nurture its cyber-warfare unit, and responded with pledges to bolster its own cyber-defence programme by doubling its number of hackers. It is also establishing 24-hour cyber-security centres under the auspices of key government agencies such as the unification ministry and the central bank.
South Korean authorities and experts, alongside defectors from the North say the country’s communist neighbour may be taking its war with the South from the trenches to the cyber-sphere – seeing it as a more effective way to topple its capitalist enemy.
The two Korea‘s remain technically at war, since they never signed a formal peace treaty to mark the end of the Korean War, which began on 25 June, 1950.
But critics say the elusive nature of such hacking incidents makes it impossible to know for certain that the North was behind these assaults – especially considering the reclusive country’s perceived lag in technological advances as a result both of its self-isolation and from years of sanctions imposed to pressure Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
‘Internet black hole’
North Korea ranked last in a 2011 survey of threats to independent media in 196 countries and territories carried out by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organisation that supports the expansion of freedom around the world. The North has been aptly called the world’s “worst internet black hole” as the country’s 24 million do not have access to the World Wide Web.
North Koreans can only publicly access Kwangmyong, the nationwide intranet established around 2000 by the Pyongyang-based Korea Computer Center, which connects universities, libraries, cyber-cafes and other institutions with websites and email. “It’s like broadcasting material from a centralised source, which people can download, and that is the only source of communication for the North Korean public,” Kim Heung-kwang, a defector who was a computer science professor in North Korea. Full access to the web is limited to a few thousand North Koreans – an estimate given by academics Cheng Chen, Kyungmin Ko and Ji-yong Lee in a December 2010 report for the Pacific Review.
Culpable or capable?
How is a country that lacks general infrastructure and public access to the internet able to carry out cyber-attacks on IT powerhouses such as South Korea and the US? “Contrary to popular belief, there was a time when North Korea was once a global leader in information technology,” Kim Heung-kwang, the former North Korean professor who defected to the South in 2004.
Kim says Kim Il-sung, founder of North Korea and father of current leader Kim Jong-il, began investing in information technology in the 1960s. Technology is being learned and accepted by all Peoples of the world, and no one can be dismissed. It is not a matter of stupidity, but a matter of ones resolve to learn!
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