North Korea cyber attack
Investigators at the Cyber Terror Response Centre 's lab in Seoul check a hacking attempt on the Korean Broadcasting SystemReuters/File image

South Korea is arming itself against potential threats from the North in a vulnerable new frontier -- cyberspace. The country's National Intelligence Service, along with its defence ministry, held a competition to identify computer wizards who can unearth and fend off hacking attempts from Pyongyang.

Seoul has suffered massive cyberattacks in the recent past, and suspects they came from Kim Jong-un's country. Hence, it is stepping up its technological defences.

According to The Washington Post, winners of the contest will earn $60,000 (£39,000) in cash prizes and would get favourable evaluation if they applied for a job with the country's intelligence agencies.

"They will get preferential treatment when they apply for intelligence or police jobs, and those who are younger could work in the cyber-command centre during their compulsory military service," the paper reported.

In preliminary rounds of the competition, computer geniuses used their good skills – "white hats" – to intercept and safeguard themselves from hackers – "black hats". Around 16 teams made it to the final round on Wednesday (21 October).

An official of the defence ministry told the Post: "It's just like taekwondo. If you study for many years and you have the skills, you can become a gangster. But if you are trained in a different way, you can use your skills for good purposes. It's the same with these people. If we raise them as white-hat hackers, they can help the government."

Kim Nam-soo added, "Their job is to find out what the malware does and then try to stop it." A 16-year-old high school student, Lee Kyung-won, said: "I do think about how I'm going to defend us against an attack from North Korea."

While North and South Korea share one of the most heavily militarised borders in the world, Seoul has repeatedly accused Pyongyang of cyberespionage and attacks on government computers.