Advisers to the Australian government have said that the likes of China and North Korea do not have the necessary capabilities to defend themselves against cyber threats despite the fact that the Pentagon has time and time again deemed the offensive cyber capabilities of both countries to be really threatening.
An assessment of the cyber competence among 20 Asia-Pacific countries has found China to be making a marked improvement in its oversight and abilities in the digital realm but has not been able to translate it into tangible policy or program. The report further says that North Korea, despite its strong claims, is at the bottom of the pile in terms of its cyber development and policy framework.
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The report, that was published by the Australian Security Policy Institute, claims that while North Korea possesses a highly organized approach to cyberspace, it does not have the right mechanisms or policies that can react in the event of a cyber crime.
In recent months, China has vehemently denied U.S. accusations that it is responsible for massive cyber attacks on American companies and has pledged to stamp down hard on those involved in any cyber crimes. North Korea on the other hand, has categorically denied US claims of launching cyber attacks on its civilian and military assets.
Sizing up the potential of North Korean cyber warfare threat
However, it has been claimed that despite its various shortcomings, the North Korean cyber warrior program is rapidly integrating with the country’s military strategy with last year’s massive hack on Sony Pictures a great example that showcases the potency of North Korean cyber warfare capabilities.
Until recently, North Korea’s offensive cyber capabilities were not considered sophisticated or threatening but it appears that Pyongyang has been spending considerable time and energy on developing and honing clandestine cyber capabilities.
Victor Cha, the Korea chair at CSIS (Center on Strategic and International Studies), explained that “the North is developing its cyber capabilities in tandem with its other asymmetric threats, and has embedded these capabilities in party and military institutions.”
South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) claims that North Korea’s General Bureau of Reconnaissance, has more than 6000 full-time hackers who create malicious computer codes. According to Jang Se-yul, who defected from North Korea, Pyongyang started focusing on its cyber capabilities way during the 1990s and also revealed that the opening of the Pyongyang Automation University was basically to train hackers in electronic warfare tactics.
Today, there are several institutes in North Korea where electronic warfare is taught as a subject by specialists which shows that cyber warfare has become a vital clog in North Korean military doctrine.
However, it is the country’s cyber defensive capabilities that are being questioned. Before the Sony hack took place, US had already penetrated North Korean digital realms. The United States was cracking into North Korean computer networks and was keeping tabs on the movements of its government hackers.
Back in 2010, the NSA successfully broke into Chinese networks connecting North Korea to the World Wide Web and embedded malware into the networks that were being used by North Korean cyber spies which is perhaps the reason why the report published by the Australian think tank makes a lot of sense.
North Korea has been too focused on shoring up its offensive cyber capabilities and has ignored shoring up its defense from malware attacks.
China stuttering to acquire the right defensive cyber capabilities
China on the other hand, may have robust offensive cyber capabilities, it is equally coming up short when it comes to defending its critical assets from a potential cyber attack. Beijing’s advanced space, cyber and electronic warfare efforts are a vital component of its military doctrine but it appears that the policymakers have so far been unable to shore up its defensive capabilities, leaving the military assets vulnerable to cyber attacks that could wreak havoc on its ‘informationized’ high-technology weapons, including missiles, aircraft, submarines and space systems that could be crippled by electronic or cyber strikes.
At present, China is making full use of military exchanges with the Pentagon in a bid to improve its ability to understand where its cyber defensive policy is ending up short. With the likes of South Korea, Japan and Australia making a lot of effort in terms of improving their respective cyber infrastructure, Beijing has decided to bring a balance about its offensive and defensive cyber capabilities which will prove to be a crucial factor in safeguarding its assets when it comes to a potential cyber attack.