At one time the world sort of laughed off North Korea’s cyber threat, but no one’s laughing anymore.
Pyongyang has become a formidable cyber opponent, fielding some 6,000 skilled hackers in an array of operations aimed at infiltrating U.S. defense and infrastructure systems to theft of money, plans for nuclear bombs and other weapons systems:
When North Korean hackers tried to steal $1 billion from the New York Federal Reserve last year, only a spelling error stopped them. They were digitally looting an account of the Bangladesh Central Bank, when bankers grew suspicious about a withdrawal request that had misspelled “foundation” as “fandation.”
Even so, Kim Jong-un’s minions still got away with $81 million in that heist.
Then only sheer luck enabled a 22-year-old British hacker to defuse the biggest North Korean cyberattack to date, a ransomware attack last May that failed to generate much cash but brought down hundreds of thousands of computers across dozens of countries — and briefly crippled Britain’s National Health Service.
Despite their mixed track record, the NK ‘army’ of hackers is nevertheless persistent and as such, is improving in its skills say American and British security officials who have tracked hack attacks back to the Stalinist country.
While Pyongyang publicly develops its own nuclear weapons and ICBM programs, the country has quietly, and dramatically, honed its cyber-skills. But unlike its weapons testing, North Korea’s cyber attacks have not drawn much international consternation in the form of sanctions, even though the country is busy using its cyber attack capabilities against Western adversaries.
Analyst comment: The North Koreans cannot possibly hope to match any Western or NATO-aligned country in terms of pure military strength, so like neighboring China, it seeks to develop asymmetric capabilities with which to threaten adversaries. This is one of them. For the record, the U.S. has also been engaged in cyberwar activities against the North Koreans for a number of years.
Why it’s on our radar: Information in this article helps satisfy Priority Intelligence Requirement 3: What are the latest indicators of a U.S.-North Korea war? Each week in our Strategic Intelligence Summary, we gauge the likelihood and scope of conflict with Russia, China, North Korea, and in the Middle East, and track the latest developments in each region. Subscribe here to receive our premium intelligence products prepared by Intelligence and special operations veterans.