While North Korea is no match for the advanced military of the United States, It has developed cyber warfare capabilities to reckon with, says a top general in the US army.
“They are not the best hackers in the world, but they are well organised and rank among the top,” said Gen. Vincent Brooks to Senate leaders.
“North Korean hackers are becoming more and more motivated to unleash cyber-attacks on the US. As a matter of fact, US companies have suffered these attacks in the past”
The country is often considered to have little technology but cyber welfare is one it seems to have invested in heavily. This allows it to inflict serious damage even though it has few resources.
“With North Korea’s bleak economy, cyber warfare is a feasible option for military attacks which they can easily deny,” states a DoD report released in 2013. In short, North Korea may not be capable of hurting a strong country physically, but hacking is a cheaper alternative.
Although the Hermit Kingdom has engaged in cyber welfare since the 1980’s attacking universities, banks and organisations in other countries, its biggest victim so far has been Sony Pictures. In 2014, Sony pictures had unreleased films and private emails leaked to the public.
Pinning a cyber-attack on an entire nation is a difficult task. However, intelligence officials reported 99% confidence that the Sony incident was the work of the North Korean government.
According to the book “Hacked World Order, another reason to believe North Korea was behind the attack was the Snowden leaks which alleged that the NSA had placed spying implants in routers and firewalls all over the world. This would have given the intelligence agency the ability to detect the origin of the Sony assault.
“It was clear that the IP addresses used in the attacks were North Korean. This was one error that gave them away. They shut the operation down when they realised their mistake but it was too late, we had already known who was behind the attacks by then.
There are about 6000 trained hackers in North Korea’s military, according to one defector who used to teach computer science at a University in Pyongyang.
There is little information available about North Korea’s cyber warfare wing. However, it appears to make use of heavy computer expertise. In the Sony attack, the method used was a common one which involved stealing log-in credentials, then digging deep into the system for not less than two months to come with a plan for their attack.
“The hack took much caution and patience,” said a named person who had access to the investigation details.
The US army is not just watching idly as North Korea progresses. The Pentagon has embarked on a programme to ramp up its own cyber wing of the military. In light of this, a new cyber strategy was released in April 2015. The strategy includes a proposal of 133 teams to comprise its Cyber Mission Force by 2018.
Although the force would h
ave more than 4,300 trained hackers, a pentagon spokesperson stated that only 1,600 of them will be actively involved in offensive hacking missions.
The plan is still underway but the US has already managed to use hackers against ISIS successfully.
“Such hacks are performed right in the war zone, making cyber a weapon of war. We can drop cyber bombs just like we drop conventional ones,” said Defence Sectary Ash Carter.
In the eyes of Gen. Brooks, North Korean hackers should be considered to be a serious threat, adding he had no optimism about North Korea’s cyber advances.
When asked if the USA was considering a counter attack, Brooks indicated that he could only answer the question in a classified briefing. He however stated it was a possible line of action.