North Korea’s hidden internet, and hacking warriors ‘unit 121’.

James Allen

As the Korean peninsula braces for war, the first conflicts have already begun as underground hacker groups race to gain access to North Korean networks, both military and public access.
In this article, I interview a notorious hacker, known only as “Jester”, and contactable only through his twitter account @JΞSTΞR™. He casts speculation on the danger of North Korea’s government run “Unit 121” hacking squad and reveals his own personal efforts behind the attacks on North Korean cables.

On April the 16th, the hacker collective “anonymous” claimed responsibility for hacking 5 North Korean sites which usually broadcast propaganda. The hacks took place on the 101st birthday of North Korea’s founder, an extremely important day in North Korea, also known as “The day of sun.”

Anonymous claims it was able to plant defamatory images on the sites, depicting Kim Jong Un complete with pig ears and nose, with the text “Wanted. Kim Jong Un.” sprawled at either end of the image.

However, the lone wolf hacker ‘Jester’ has a different story to tell. After a few attempts to interview him about his work, he agreed through a direct message on his twitter account to a short interview. I was keen to see just what he made of the ongoing conflict and what his involvement in the recent hacks

@jjamieallen: So what do you make of the recent anonymous hacks of North Korean websites? do you feel there is a genuine intent behind them or is it just a sporadic uncoordinated attack?

@JΞSTΞR™: I was quick to highlight on my blog that I started these attacks and provided the foundation for the hacks. Anonymous ‘hi-jacked’ my efforts, and whereas is started out as a genuine attempt to gain an insight into North Korea, it ended up being a media showcase, a chance for anonymous to claim the spotlight.

@jjamieallen: I’m sorry to hear that, having read about your efforts, I am aware just how much your exploits go unseen by the media. The western world has quite a good insight into North Koreas technical abilities, with various defectors and other sources clarifying what the North is capable of, but what parts of North Korea’s electronic arsenal remain unseen? What do you know of their ‘hidden internet’?

@JΞSTΞR™: The vast majority of North Korean internet surfers have never actually seen the Web. At libraries and educational facilities, they log on to something called Kwangmyong (roughly translated as “bright”). It’s been around since the early 2000s and it’s a completely closed intranet system, operating via fiber optic cable. It most likely has no more than a few dozen sites, most of them for education or propaganda. We have a relatively good view of the server layout of this network, however, and hidden military cables remain to be seen.

@jjamieallen: Interesting, so there may be less of a military presence in North Korea’s internet network than previously assumed. One story that surfaces every now and again in conversations about North Korea’s technical capabilities is something named ‘Unit 121’, an undercover army of North Korean hackers. What do you know of them, and do you consider them a genuine threat?

@JΞSTΞR™: I don’t think NK cyber threat is anywhere near as advanced as PLA/China, for them to have competitive edge in the cyber world they have to be part of it. They have to have a pool of talent to recruit from, and considering nobody in NK can get on the web, there is no talent. The biggest threat is the fact their ‘glorious leader’ is a basket case.

@jjamieallen: Certainly reassuring words. Some journalists have compared North Korea’s military power to be only marginally more powerful than Ethiopia’s…

@JΞSTΞR™: Their capability may be lacking but the fact Kimmy is crazy makes up for it. After all this shit-talking for weeks, he has to do something or he will never be taken seriously again on a world stage. He knows this.

@jjamieallen: This means they will be using outdated communication methods and very little electronic warfare should they choose to act. Does South Korea have any grassroots hacker programs throwing stones northwards, or are the efforts entirely from American soil?

@JΞSTΞR™: I am pretty sure South K have got their own talent ‘throwing stones’ even if it’s not officially sanctioned. But again, targets are very slim, if you look at NK address space using SHODAN there’s under 20 targets, for the whole country.

Read more technology features from James Allen Here


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