North Korea Building Big Facility to Store Foreign Know-how Harvested from Internet

Source familiar with plan says Pyongyang will use hackers to gather data without connecting citizens to global Internet

Employees of the Korean Broadcasting System in Seoul check computers following a suspected cyberattack by North Korea, March 21, 2013.

North Korea is building a science and technology facility on an unpopulated island in the capital Pyongyang to store digital information obtained in part by hacking foreign websites to help scientists and other professionals access outside know-how, sources from the country said.

“North Korea is building Science and Technology Hall, a massive information and communication service center for scientists, technicians and teachers who can’t access the internet,” someone who works for an educational institution told RFA’s Korean Service.

“If Science and Technology Hall is completed, they can see digital materials from all parts of the world such as international technical development trends and [information about] military, telecommunications and satellites,” the source said.

The facility, which is being built on Pyongyang’s Ssuk Island, will disseminate information to scientists and technicians via the country’s intranet, he said.

It will be connected to major universities in Pyongyang as well as research centers and laboratories in leading companies through a dedicated line, he said.

Construction has already started on the facility, which will collect and organize both domestic and global data, on Ssuk Island,” the Chosun Shinbo, the journal of the Chongryon (General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan), which represents the position of the North Korean regime, reported in January.

Cultivating a new generation

North Korea has an internal network system for researchers and other professionals to access data, but the closed-off country does not allow unmonitored connection to the Internet to which most of the rest of the world has access.

But the regime of leader Kim Jong Un wants to acquire international technology to help cultivate a new generation of gifted and talented students, sources said.

He has said that authorities are speeding up the construction of Science and Technology Hall so the country can “make more of an effort to invest in improving technology,” the academic source said.

The move is an indication that Kim Jong Un, who has studied abroad and enjoys using the Internet, acknowledges the country’s need for a digital connection to the outside world to acquire information on science and technology, despite authorities’ efforts to control information flows to prevent threats to the established order, the source said.

Those familiar with plans for the facility said North Korea would likely obtain the data it wants to store in Science and Technology Hall by hacking websites in foreign countries,” a source in China, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFA.

“North Korea, which has advanced in hacking skills, can steal information from other countries and fill the Science and Technology Hall with data by hacking into websites,” he said.

North Korea’s intelligence bureau will cultivate “intelligence warriors” to illegally obtain necessary information, just as it is alleged to have done in the hacking of Sony Pictures in the U.S. last November and of computer systems of various government agencies and banks, the source said.

The stolen data included information about employees and their families, office e-mails, executive salaries and copies of previously unreleased films. The hackers demanded the cancellation of the upcoming release of a film about a plot to assassinate Kim Jong Un.

After examining the software, techniques and network sources used in the hacking incident, U.S. intelligence authorities said they believed that North Korea was behind the attack, although the country has denied any part in it.

South Korean companies also accuse North Korea of hacking their computer networks.

On Tuesday, the country blamed North Korea for cyber attacks against its nuclear reactor operator last December, based on investigations of the Internet addresses used in the hacking, Reuters reported. Pyongyang denied any involvement.

The conclusion came less than a week after a hacker believed to be behind the cyber attacks on Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. Ltd. released more files believed to have been taken in December, the report said.

On March 12, hackers posted on Twitter other files from the cyber attack on the company with a demand for money in exchange for not selling the data to other countries.

North Korea denied any involvement in the incident, but malicious codes used in the attack were similar to ones used in other attacks by North Korean hackers, the report said, citing a statement from the Seoul central prosecutors' office.

Reported by Young Jung of RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.