Concerns about North Korea's cyber warfare squads are resurfacing after Friday's cyber and GPS jamming attacks, which are being blamed on the North. Pyongyang began developing electronic warfare capabilities in 1986 when it founded Mirim University, the present-day Automation University, to train specialists.
A defector who graduated from the university recalled that 25 Russian professors were invited from the Frunze Military Academy in the former Soviet Union to give lectures, and some 100 to 110 hackers were trained there every year.
Mirim is a five-year college. The Amrokgang College of Military Engineering, the National Defense University, the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy are also reportedly training electronic warfare specialists.
Jang Se-yul of North Korean People's Liberation Front, an organization of former North Korean military officers and servicemen, recalled that when he fled the North in 2007, "I heard that the North Korean military has about 30,000 electronic warfare specialists, including some 1,200 personnel under two electronic warfare brigades."
"Each Army corps operates an automation unit, or an electronic warfare unit." Jang used to be an officer of a North Korean electronic warfare command.
Material published by the North Korean Army in 2005 quotes leader Kim Jong-il as saying, "Modern war is electronic warfare. Victory or defeat of a modern war depends on how to carry out electronic warfare."
In a 2006 report, the South Korean military warned North Korean hackers could paralyze the command post of the U.S. Pacific Command and damage computer systems on the U.S. mainland.
Experts believe that the North's 600 or so special hackers are as good as their CIA counterparts. They attempted in August 2008 to hack the computer of a colonel in South Korean Field Army headquarters. In 1999, the U.S. Defense Department said the most frequent visitor to its website was traced to North Korea.
Due to economic difficulties since the 1990s, the North Korean regime had a hard time boosting its conventional military capabilities and instead focused on strengthening so-called asymmetric capabilities that would allow it to achieve relatively large effects with small expenses. That includes not only nuclear and biochemical weapons and missiles but also special forces and hackers.