[url=http://news.ft.com/cms/s/3d592eb4-15f0-11d9-b835-00000e2511c8.html]Financial Times[/url]

N Korea’s computer hackers target South and US
By Anna Fifield in Seoul
Published: October 4 2004 11:30 | Last updated: October 4 2004 11:30

[b]South Korea/North Korea flagNorth Korea has trained as many as 600 computer hackers to be capable of launching a cyber-war on South Korea, the US or Japan, South Korea’s defence ministry said on Monday.[/b]

Coming amid intelligence reports that Pyongyang might be preparing to test a ballistic missile, the report will exacerbate jitters over the extent of the communist state’s destructive ability.

“North Korea’s intelligence warfare capability is estimated to have reached the level of advanced countries,” the ministry said in a report to the National Assembly’s national defence committee.

[b]North Korea’s military command has 500 to 600 hacking staff who have undertaken a five-year university programme, the report said. Their main task is to gather intelligence from - or launch a cyber attack on - the US, Japan and South Korea.[/b]

In a wave of attacks earlier this year, nearly 300 South Korean government computers at departments including the National Assembly and an atomic energy research institute were infected with viruses capable of stealing passwords and other sensitive information.

South Korea is particularly vulnerable to cyber-crime because it has the world’s highest usage of broadband services and relatively poor levels of internet security.

The South Korean intelligence traced the hackers to China, although it was unclear whether they were based in China or just using a Chinese network.

The defence ministry’s report comes as Pyongyang’s relations with Washington, Seoul and Tokyo deteriorate.

North Korea is refusing to return to the diplomatic table for the latest round of six-party talks between the countries, as well as China and Russia. The talks have reached an impasse owing to what Pyongyang calls the US’s “hostile policies” towards North Korea.

The process has been further complicated by recent revelations that South Korea has enriched a small amount of uranium and separated plutonium in secret experiments during the past 22 years.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Monday held talks in Seoul with Lee Hun-jai, the South Korean prime minister, as part of the agency’s investigation into the experiments.