North Korea has assembled a team of 3,000 cyber agents, including hundreds of trolls, whose job is to undermine morale in South Korea, according to a South Korean think tank.
The computer experts spread propaganda by hacking into South Korean websites and linking them through to pro-North Korea outlets.
The trolls – believed to number about 200 – reportedly use identities stolen from South Korean internet users to post comments on web forums.
“The North has established a team of online trolls at the United Front Department and the Reconnaissance General Bureau,” Ryu Dong-Ryul of the Police Policy Institute told a seminar at the Seoul Press Centre, as reported by Chosun.
The think tank said the United Front Department hacks into South Korean websites through servers based in 19 countries, using constantly changing IP addresses to avoid detection. It said the trolls were part of a 3,000-strong cyber army and claimed they posted more than 41,000 items of propaganda online in 2012, up from 27,000 the year before.
An estimated 300 North Koreans are trained in cyber warfare every year, compared to just 30 in South Korea, Lim Jong-in of Korea University told Chosun. They are picked from elite middle schools in the North Korean capital Pyongyang and spend 10 years honing their skills at Kim Il-Sung Military University, Mirim University or Kim Chaek University of Technology, the newspaper reported.
In June, the internet security company Symantec suggested a string of attacks on South Korean websites dating back four years were the work of a gang known as DarkSeoul, although it could not confirm the group is run by North Korea.