North Korea has nearly doubled the number of its cyberwarfare operatives to around 5,900 over the last two years, military and intelligence officials said Sunday.
Pyongyang has been bolstering its cyberwarfare resources in line with its efforts to strengthen asymmetric military capabilities in recognition of the difficulty of handling South Korea's advanced conventional weapons systems, analysts said.
"We believe that the number of the North's cyberwarfare agents, which had been estimated at some 3,000, nearly doubled to around 5,900.
In the past two years, the number has sharply increased," a military official told local media.
The official added that the North runs a hacking unit under the Reconnaissance General Bureau, its premier intelligence agency, and that the unit has some 1,200 professional hackers, a considerable number of whom operate in third countries including China.
The North's cyberwarfare manpower appears to be greater than that of the US and Japan.
The US is known to have some 900 cyber specialists in its cyberwarfare command, which has some 80,000 personnel, while Japan is reported to have less than 100 cyberwarfare experts in its cyberdefense unit.
Since it established Command Automation University, previously called Mirim University, in 1986, the North has produced some 100 cyber experts each year.
In 1990, the North also built Moranbong University, which has taught North Koreans hacking techniques.
In recent years, Pyongyang launched a series of cyberattacks on South Korean banks and websites of South Korean major businesses and government agencies including Cheong Wa Dae and the Defence Ministry.
The communist state has denied responsibility, calling Seoul's argument a complete "fabrication."