It seems like the United States is gaining enemies by the second. Cyber-war enemies, in particular. While it is still hot in the relations between the U.S. and China over the recent breach at the Office of Personnel Management that included stealing identifying information of as many as 4 million federal workers, North Korea has threatened a cyber-attack against the U.S.
North Korea, which is known for its strictly isolated communication systems, has responded to the recent report that said Pyongyang was the target of a failed Stuxnet-style cyber-attack by Washington.
The Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s largest daily newspaper and a major propaganda mouthpiece of the ruling Workers Party of Korea, published an articles saying that North Korea would wage a cyber-war against the U.S. to “hasten its ruin.”
While many people would disregard the article as a yet another threat that will not be followed by action, it must be understood that this is cyber-war we are talking about. A cyber-war with the country that has been repeatedly accused of a large number of major cyber-attacks in the past.
The latest ‘craftwork’ that is believed to have been carried out by the North Koreans was the large-scale 2014 cyber-attack against Sony Pictures over the movie that depicted the assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. The cyber-attack included a leak of a great number of ‘uncomfortable’ information and emails. “The DPRK can react to any forms of wars, operations and battles sought by the U.S. imperialists,” the article in the Rodong Sinmun said.
“It is the firm determination of the DPRK to wage Korean-style cyber war to hasten the final ruin of the U.S. and the forces following it, who attempted to bring down the former with the cyber war,” it added.
The U.S. cyber-attack failed because North Korea has no Internet
North Korean Internet usage is limited only to elite close to the leader of the country Kim Jong-un with a permission from security authorities. The ‘ordinary people’ of the country have access to a closed national network called the Kwangmyong, an intranet with information that has to be approved by the government.
“The U.S. is greatly mistaken if it thinks the DPRK will just overlook with folded arms the provocations in the cyber space,” the Rodong Sinmun said.
In late May, Reuters reported that the U.S. had tried to sabotage North Korea’s nuclear weapons program through a computer virus five years ago. The hacking campaign was similar to the Stuxnet attack that disabled thousands of centrifuges used by Iran’s nuclear program, which as it then turned out was a joint project of the U.S. and Israel.
In case with North Korea, the U.S. attempted to use a version of the virus that would be activated each time it stumbled upon Korean-language settings, according to Reuters.
However, the National Security Agency-led cyber-attack was unsuccessful for the reason that the virus could not gain access to North Korea’s nuclear program network, according to Reuters’ intelligence source. The reasons for such a failure lies in North Korea’s extreme isolation of its communications systems.
A spokeswoman for the NSA refused to comment on the matter. The agency has previously refused to provide any comments on the Stuxnet cyber-attack against Iran.
North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs are basically the identical
Washington has been behind many cyber espionage campaigns, but the cyber-attacks against North Korea and Iran are the only ones that the NSA has been officially linked to targeting with software to destroy nuclear equipment.
The U.S. has repeatedly voiced its worries over North Korea’s nuclear program, which violates international agreements. North Korea, in turn, has been suffering from sanctions and isolation due to its frequent nuclear and missile tests. The sanctions are viewed by Pyongyang as an aggression against its right to defend itself.
Experts well-versed in nuclear programs believe that there are not many differences between North Korea and Iran’s nuclear operations. On top of that, both Pyongyang and Tehran continue they cooperation on military development.
The similarities between the nuclear programs of the two countries allowed the NSA to make Stuxnet able to destroy centrifuges in North Korea if it could get there.
“Stuxnet can deal with both of them [North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs]. But you still need to get it in,” The Guardian quoted Olli Heinonen, senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. and China were holding talks on imposing further sanctions against North Korea, which was “not even close” to shutting down its nuclear program, Kerry said.
North Korean hackers “could kill”
North Korean hackers can carry out attacks that could destroy key infrastructure and even kill people, a computer science professor has warned.
Speaking to BBC Click, Professor Kim Heung-Kwang said that North Korea has as many as 6,000 trained military hackers. The Professor has also urged international organizations to take action in order to prevent North Korea from launching severe cyber-attacks.
“Their cyber-attacks could have similar impacts as military attacks, killing people and destroying cities,” Professor Kim said. “The reason North Korea has been harassing other countries is to demonstrate that North Korea has cyber war capacity,” he added.
Kim Heung-Kwang taught computer science at Hamheung Computer Technology University for 20 years, and then escaped the country in 2004. Professor’s former students reportedly formed North Korea’s notorious hacking unit Bureau 121, which has been responsible for numerous cyber-attacks.
Many of the cyber-attacks have reportedly been aimed specifically at South Korean infrastructure, such as power plants and banks.