BEIJING - The stunning cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment may have been orchestrated by North Korea, as the US claims, but there are signs it was based out of the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, the provincial capital of Liaoning some 200km from the border of the Stalinist state.
According to sources in Japan and the US, an analysis of threatening messages e-mailed to executives of the US motion picture company showed they were probably transmitted from an IP address located in the Chinese city.
Sources in China and North Korean defectors agreed with that analysis, saying North Korea's Consulate General and hotels owned by Pyongyang in Shenyang served as key bases for North Korean cyberattacks. The consulate general is located in a northwestern district of the city that is home to a number of consulates, including those of the US and Japan.
The main gate to North Korea's Consulate is guarded by armed Chinese police and is said to see relatively little foot traffic compared with other consulates. Members of a North Korean cyberwarfare group called Bureau 121, which is reportedly staffed by 1,800 to 2,000 computer experts, allegedly visit the premises frequently. It is believed that bases scattered across Shenyang, including the consulate, comprise one of the largest overseas hubs of Bureau 121.
According to the Chinese and North Korean sources, Pyongyang set up a base in Shenyang because the city is home to many North Korean IT experts working for Chinese companies. Local businesses are said to welcome North Koreans because they work hard and cost less to employ than Chinese hires. While there are many unskilled North Koreans working for textile companies in the Liaoning border town of Dandong, most of the North Koreans working in Shenyang are skilled engineers, such as developers of software and telecommunications hardware.
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