North Korea has put together a secret army of computer hackers that it uses to disrupt South Korean military options and break into US military computers.
It might seem strange that North Korea has a dedicated cyber-warfare army unit. After all, only a few hundred people in the country even have access to the internet. But the country has worked to establish an elite group of hackers.
North Korean defectors say that the country actively searches for schoolchildren who display mathematical talent, and then trains them up in elite universities to become experts in hacking.
We don’t know exactly how many people work as hackers. One report claims that there are 17,000 members, but a North Korean defector has said that there are just 10 teams of hackers, each with less than five members.
The army division, known as Unit 121, is known to be spread between three different locations: A cluster of concrete buildings in Pyongyang, a training camp in India, and a luxury hotel in China near the North Korean border.
A 2009 report authored by Army Major Steve Sin, a senior analyst working for the US military in South Korea, reveals that some members of Unit 121 work from the Chilbosan Hotel in the Shenyang region of China. He claims that a North Korean defector said in 2004 that some hacking teams work from the hotel.
Before we get to the Chinese hotel, here is a typical North Korean hotel, so you can see what the hackers would be used to before their trip to China:
Here’s the outside of the Chilbosan hotel in Shenyang, China, alleged home of some of North Korea’s hackers:
Inside, the rooms are spacious.
Rooms even have their own minibars!
This is what the bathrooms look like.
The hotel also features free Wi-Fi, which is useful if you’re a hacker.
The hotel also has its own band.
It’s not clear whether North Korea’s hackers are actually any good. But their reputation precedes them: In the West this week everyone is gossipping over the hack of Sony Pictures, which virtually shut down the company’s officers. Some people say it was North Korean hackers who were trying to prevent the studio from releasing a movie in which Kim Jong Un is portrayed in a bad light.