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North Korea's Secret Hacker Unit: Bureau 121

Updated on December 7, 2014
Unit 121 location
Unit 121 location
Scene from The Interview
Scene from The Interview

Inside North Korea there is an elite small group of computer hackers that target international targets. By NK's standards, they are well paid and supplied with perks from the West that the average North Korean only dreams of. They are the members of Bureau 121.

Bureau 121 is part of NK's General Bureau of Reconnaissance, an elite unit of spies and hackers operated by its military. They hack, spy and cause mayhem via electronic means and computer attacks. All nations today have a cyber-warfare unit, Iran has an army of them. The US and Israelis used their own to attack Iran's nuclear ambitions successfully using computer computer code to make their centrifuges spin at wrong speeds and provide errant data to monitoring equipment. This caused many of them to fail and stalled Iran's development.

A former member of 121, Jang Se-yul, who defected six years ago, stated that the group is comprised of NK's most brightest students, some as young as 17 yrs. old. He was a grad from NK's computer science university. For years, he lived like a rich man like the other 1800 members of Unit 121. Some of them are deployed outside of the country and work undercover. Each year, 100 grads from the university (behind barbed wire) 2500 applicants are picked to join Unit 121. If you are picked after five years of school, it is considered a great honor with many perks for them and their family.

Unit 121's most successful attack was in 2013 against its arch enemy, South Korea. The unit was able to shutdown and disrupt 30,000 PC's in Seoul, which severely crippled banking and other tasks using malware. South Korea was attacked again months later, this time, it was the government's computers and mainframes. More recently, Sony Pictures' computer system was hacked and several unreleased motion pictures had been released on the Internet. This attack was prompted by the new movie, "The Interview", a comedy-satire about two journalists hired by the CIA to assassinate NK's leader. When North Korea found out about the movie in July, 2014, they threatened that some sort of reprisal would occur if the movie was released. They called the movie an act of terrorism and an act of war!

Now, the attack has occurred and experts suspect it was NK because the malware code used was similar to that used against South Korea. North Korea has denied this, yet, indicated that those supporting NK may have done so because there are supporters across the globe. The group for the Sony hack call themselves, "Guardians of Peace". Besides several movies being prematurely released, a trove of personal data and financial records of Sony's 6000 employees were stolen. It is suspected that up to 50 hackers had conducted the attack of Sony in Los Angeles.


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