North Korea training cyberwarriors at foreign colleges

Defector claims unit expanded from 500 to 3,000 people

North Korea is trying to boost its cyberwar capability by its best sending programmers abroad for training in the latest hacking techniques, a defector from the country has told a security conference in Seoul.

According to Kim Heung-kwang, who left the bizarre and secretive Communist state in 2003, North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau cyberwarfare unit has increased in size for 500 personnel to as many as 3,000, Reuters has reported him as saying.

"These prodigies are provided with the best environment, and if they graduate with top grades, their parents in the provinces are given the opportunity to live in Pyongyang," Kim told delegates, speaking as the head of a defector network, North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity.

"After studying at local universities, these students are given the special privilege of continuing their studies abroad," he said.

Given the country's unstable behaviour, including an incident in which it shelled a South Korean fishing village last November, its cyberwarfare capability is being watched closely.

Only two weeks ago, details emerged of a North Korean college at which up to 120 students a year are allegedly trained to conduct cyberwarfare operations.

Working out what this means in practical terms is not easy - many countries around the world are actively bolstering their cryberwar teams, including the UK.

It doesn't help that South Korea tends to point the finger at North Korea for cyber-attacks even when the evidence is far from clear. Earlier this month, North Korea the blame for a computer crash at a South Korean bank was pinned on its northern neighbour.

Last summer, North Korea was widely blamed for a large series of cyber-attacks against US and South Korean websites which later turned out not to have been connected to the country.

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John E Dunn

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