Information Warfare: Military Camp 144


May 15, 2011: North Korea's Mirim College has had the last laugh. Long ridiculed as the source of North Korea's elite, but unseen, hackers, the growing number of devastating Cyber War attacks coming from North Korea has changed perceptions. South Korea is the main target of all this Cyber War effort, and much, if not most, is traced back to North Korea. The South Koreans are increasingly anxious about these cyber attacks from the north, and the school that has trained so many of the hackers.

Since the late 1980s, Mirim College was known of as a new technical school in North Korea, which specialized in training electronic warfare specialists. But by the last 1990s, it became known as the school where students learned to hack the Internet, and other types of networks. Originally named after the district of Pyongyang it was in, the college eventually moved and was expanded. It had several name changes, but it's official name was always Military Camp 144 of the Korean People's Army. Students wore military uniforms, and security on the school grounds was strict. Each year, 120 students were accepted (from the elite high schools, or as transfers from the best universities.) Students stayed for five years. The school contained five departments; electronic engineering, command automation (hacking), programming, technical reconnaissance (electronic warfare), and computer science. There's also a graduate school, with a three year course (resulting in the equivalent of a Masters Degree) for a hundred or so students.

It was long thought that those Mirim College grads were hard at work maintaining the government intranet, not plotting Cyber War against the south. Moreover, North Korea has been providing programming services to South Korean firms. Not a lot, but the work is competent, and cheap. So it was known that there was some software engineering capability north of the DMZ. It was believed that this was being used to raise money for the government up there, not form a major Internet crime operation. But now there is the growing evidence of North Korean hackers are at work in several areas of illegal activity. The Cyber War attacks apparently began about five years ago, quietly and nothing too ambitious. But year-by-year, the attacks increased in frequency, intensity and boldness. Now the North Korean hackers are apparently preparing for a major assault on South Korea's extensive Internet infrastructure, as well as systems (utilities, especially) that are kept off the Internet.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has always been a big fan of PCs and electronic gadgets in general. He not only founded Mirim, but backed it consistently. The only form of displeasure from Kim was suspicions that those who graduated from 1986 through the early 1990s had been tainted by visits (until 1991) by Russian electronic warfare experts. Some Mirim students also went to Russia to study for a semester or two. All these students were suspected of having become spies for the Russians, and most, if not all, were purged from the Internet hacking program. Thus it wasn't until the end of the 1990s that there was a sufficient number of trusted Internet experts that could be used to begin building a Cyber War organization.



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