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The culprit is difficult to nail down, but North Korea or its sympathizers are likely, Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research at computer-security software maker McAfee Inc. told The Associated Press.

The purpose: to test the U.S. and South Korean defenses and reaction, a recent McAfee study said.

“Knowing that would be invaluable in a possible future armed confrontation on the peninsula, since cyberspace has already become the fifth battlespace dimension, in addition to land, air, sea, and space,” the report said.

Computer education begins as early as primary school for Pyongyang’s elite.

At the Mangyongdae Schoolchildren’s Palace, where students perfect their singing, dancing, taekwondo, calligraphy and drawing, one boy is playing a game that tests his typing skills on a computer that glows beneath portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. So far, he’s got 41 of 61 characters right.

Another has Adobe Photoshop open and is working on adding text to a JPEG image. “There’s no Stopping Progress,” his sentence reads, superimposed on an image of Windows XP.

At the computer lab at the Grand People’s Study House, the ornate main library overlooking Kim Il Sung Plaza, every single desk with a Dell computer is occupied, the tap of keyboards the only noise breaking the silence.

Typing in http://www.yahoo.com on Internet Explorer goes nowhere, but it’s easy to find Rodong Sinmun, the Workers’ Party newspaper, on the Naenara (“My country”) portal.

At Kim Il Sung University, North Korea’s top university, many of the classrooms may not have heat in winter but the building housing a new e-library that opened last year is state of the art.

Students neatly turned out in dark blazers and red ties sit quietly before terminals outfitted with HP computers. They have 2.8 million books from around the world at their disposal online, including English-language textbooks by U.S. publisher McGraw-Hill.

Washington bans the export of computers and software to North Korea from the United States, and Dell policy forbids the export and re-export of its goods to the country. However, both Dell and HP have factories in China, North Korea’s main trading partner.

Inside a classroom, students takes notes on computers as a lecturer instructs them on Linux programming. On the walls, 3Com wireless routers beam the Intranet throughout the building. The catchphrase on campus is “roka” _ short for “remoted controlled” _ education. Lectures in “roka” classrooms can be transmitted in real time across the campus via webcam, said Ryang Myong Hui, a university tour guide.

Competition to study computer science at North Korea’s top universities is fierce, Tjia said.

“For North Korea, IT is one of the hot new topics,” he said. “Not because it’s new but because it gives new career options, including the option to work abroad and to work for foreign companies.”

Kim Nam Il, the physics student, is completely at ease navigating his way around Red Star 2.0, North Korea’s homegrown operating system.

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