The US Has Been Conducting Offensive Cyberattacks against North Korea

The New York Times is reporting that the US has been conducting offensive cyberattacks against North Korea, in an effort to delay its nuclear weapons program.

EDITED TO ADD (3/8): Commentary.

Posted on March 8, 2017 at 7:03 AM • 20 Comments

Comments

Bruce SchneierMarch 8, 2017 9:15 AM

"The attacks described are certainly not just cyber, and include more physical EM etc"

Yes.

The Phisher KingMarch 8, 2017 11:49 AM

And this is news to someone?
All western governments spy on non-western governments and vice-versa, with the goal of garnering intelligence to use against them.
This has been happening for more than a century in one form or another.
Business as usual - nothing to see here.

Ross SniderMarch 8, 2017 12:02 PM

There is nothing illegal about North Korea's nuclear program. We ought to find a legal reason for attacking their country.

Tyn MannMarch 8, 2017 12:08 PM

Waging war with NK, cyber or otherwise is a waste of time, like so many of the other wars we are waging against the world these days.

SK is all grown up now. Let them deal with their hoodlum neighbors.

blablablagingerMarch 8, 2017 12:30 PM

I am really worried about North Korea. Worried shitless.

Imagine how much economic activity would accrue to the US if NK were to nuke Japan and shell Seoul with sarin. All of a sudden the US would have to ramp up all sorts of war-time activities and supplies of Asian cars would be cut off leaving a huge market for American makers to reclaim. All it would take is a drone strike in Pyongyang to trigger it all. And the time is running out, because increasingly NK is plausibly capable of threatening the US itself. Time is wasting and the super opportunity to trigger and benefit from a war in Asia is slipping away. Trump is exactly the sort of clown to go ahead and push the button.

I am scared shitless.

TatütataMarch 8, 2017 8:24 PM

physical EM ? This story sounds eerily like something straight out of a vulgar James Bond plot, i.e., Ian Fleming's Dr. No.

But if this story is true, what result is actually being achieved? At best it can only delay deployment, and at worse it helps the opposition in hardening their kit.


Clive RobinsonMarch 8, 2017 11:27 PM

It's not justva question of technology, it's also a question of thr US and South Korean attitude to the DPRK (NK)

As many might have missed the Current US President noted that he had inherited a real mess from his predecessor over NK policy.

As I have noted before it appeared that Stuxnet was designed by the US to get at "The Hermit Kingdom" through Iran's close contact with them over nuclear technology. Likewise NK also viewed that Stuxnet was aimed at them hence their sudden invitation back then to UN inspectors to show their thousands of new centrafuges that were comoleatly unaffected, in essense to very publicaly show that US attacks against them were failing. It's something many in the US appear to have some difficulty getting their head around, even though the US had indirectly acknowledged it.

The simple fact is that the mess handed over has been a poisoned chalice from administration to administration for half a century.

US War-Hawks have much as they did with Russia created a spector out of Korea. It started with Russia and Stalin who used Korea as a proxie war, that Stalin then dumped into Chinese hands. The result was a war that the US and other Western forces lost. Thus the US War-Hawks have a sense of grievance and have set up a "sense of unfinished business" that has become a mantra or mater of faith. Worse is the US attitude to nuclear engineering in essence they do not want the rest of the world having nuclear technology, by this I mean even peaceful energy production.

With regards the US attitude to NK it is also an attitude towards China. The US sees somewhat incorrectly that China has a relationship with NK in the same way the US has a relationship with Israel. As Obama found the US relationship with Israel is not as it likes to think, which resulted in it becoming public that senior US politicians had had their phone calls etc with Israel monitored and that some Republican politicians had been breaking the rules about not in office discussions of diplomatic policy with a foreign nation (just as has come up with the current US president and Russia).

Part of the "addmix" is the US relationship with South Korea over NK. SK has it's own political "nut jobs" war-hawks etc much as the US has, and it's one of the reasons the US holds "war games" in territory that is disputed beyween the North and the South in what is in effect the territorial waters of the NK by most reasonable interpretations (as can be seen on a map). It does not help when the US/SK comnence "live firing" towards NK, which is one of the reasons NK shot back not so long ago.

Part of the NK-SK tension is over "aircraft safety" with the South claiming that the North had been jaming/interfering with GPS thus causing aircraft to fly off course etc. Much as this sounds a "James Bond" plot[1] there is evidence of not just interference but manipulation as well, but only assumptions about "Who is doing it" and why. One thing that can be said about it is the country that has the ability to do it is the US, which might have a baring on this US EM attacks on NK story.

The simple fact at the end of the day is that the US War-Hawks have a real hard on over NK, further most of the NK behaviour that is seen as undesirable, has come as a response to US-SK behaviour, often with the US reneging on diplomatic agreements brought about by War-Hawk interferance in the diplomatic process, thus has certainly been a major contributor to the mess that Donald Trump refered to.

@ Bruce,

You might want to have a read of,

http://38north.org/2016/09/shecker091216/

[1] See the film "The World is Not Enough" which was also supposedly modeled on the megalomaniac behaviour of News International owner Rupert "the bear faced lier" Murdoch...

WinterMarch 9, 2017 4:41 AM

"The US sees somewhat incorrectly that China has a relationship with NK in the same way the US has a relationship with Israel."

I always thought that NK was kept alive by the Chinese to harass SK and Japan. A reunited Korea would be a strong country in the same league as Japan, but directly at their border. That does not sit well with the hegemonic aspirations of China. Now the Chinese can threaten to unleash NK onto SK anytime the want.

When China pulls the plug, the regime in NK will collapse simply from a lack of food and other essentials.

Clive RobinsonMarch 9, 2017 5:22 AM

@ Winter,

When China pulls the plug, the regime in NK will collapse simply from a lack of food and other essentials.

They may well have just done that over the recent "Death of the brother in the airport"[1].

NK's two main income earning exports are coal and iron ore. Apparently China had gone over and above UN Sactions requests and has stopped importing NK coal untill the end of 2017.

[1] Sorry there are some things that just lend themslves to Dame Agatha Christie style novel titles.

otherMarch 9, 2017 6:20 AM

@ blablablaginger


Imagine how much economic activity would accrue to the US if NK were to nuke Japan and shell Seoul with sarin. All of a sudden the US would have to ramp up all sorts of war-time activities and supplies of Asian cars would be cut off leaving a huge market for American makers to reclaim.

Nothing new, this is History. What you are describing is typically WW I & II.

Clive RobinsonMarch 9, 2017 6:52 AM

@ Winter,

I forgot to include a link over China stoping importing NK coal. As zerohedge appears popular on this blog in recent times,

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-02-19/north-koreas-regime-jeopardy-after-china-bans-all-coal-imports

Note that the article does not mention Russia, or China's desire to get the US out of the South China Seas.

Nor does it importantly mention what goes on with the NK citizens if things go to far. Currently NK keeps it's people in by machine gun, mines and morters, and those that do make it to China effectively have little choice. If they come to "official attention" then they get "sent back" which means death not just for them but others of their family, which means many in effect become exploited in various ways you would not wish to think about.

Now if NK stops paying or feeding it's 1million plus standing army then there are going to be big problems for the countries around NK.

Thus by doing this China has infact raised the livelihood that NK will use it's army/weapons against countries the US regard as allies in the South China Seas. Thus South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have just woken up to two things. Firstly they are now on the front line, secondly three superpowers have interests in turning them into pawn or vassal states, or see them burn.

I suspect the Donald may be poping Tylenol like a three year old with a big tube of "Smarties"[1] over the South China Sea.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smarties

Dirk PraetMarch 9, 2017 7:00 AM

@ Clive, @ Winter

When China pulls the plug, the regime in NK will collapse simply from a lack of food and other essentials.

Despite China's recent efforts to keep the regime in line, I kinda doubt they will drop their support for them anywhere soon. The DPRK is too important for China as a buffer between them and South Korea and to keep US resources in the region pinned down. And like you say, they also have no military or economic interest in a strong reunited Korea at their border.

The US IC conducting cyber and other operations to sabotage the DPRK's nuclear program squarely aimed both at themselves and several key allies in the region however seems pretty legit to me. A hereditary communist dictatorship with a paranoid narcissist at the helm is not something that inspires a lot of trust in me either.

Dave March 9, 2017 11:10 AM

There is another possibility.

What if the CIA has developed assets inside the NK Nuclear/ICBM program. Then over the past year watched as Kim Jong Un executed anyone and everyone he suspects of being a spy or viewed as ineffective/incompetent. The best way to take the pressure off those assets might be to leak a false story to the NYT, it would take suspicion off those assets in place and maybe have the added benefit of shutting the program down to look for Malware.

The NSA/CIA certainly has the capability to hack into NK systems, but would this really be the most efficient way to slow down the program? NK has probably the least developed internet infrastructure of any country in the world. When you start trying to hack a country 30+ years behind the technology curve that in itself poses unique challenges.

Kim Jong Un is a paranoid psychopath something not lost on his inner circle. Since 2012 when he became the Supreme Leader he has killed 8 of his father’s closest aides and 3 family members. Methods used for killing those that fall out of favor range from being feed to guard dogs alive, tied to anti-aircraft guns and blown apart, or as we saw with his half-brother using VX Nerve gas in a public airport.

Kim Jong Un is an extreme sadist and regularly humiliates his top leadership. I have heard stories where he forces all his generals (most of whom are 70+) to strip naked and swim out 100 yards to a buoy and back in races at his beach house in Wonsan. If you lose the race let’s just say the day doesn’t get any better! This kind of atmosphere lends itself to the cultivation of intelligence assets!

Just an interesting alternative theory

NystagmusEMarch 9, 2017 1:32 PM

It's also worth stating out in the open that the US Military regularly tests intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM's, right next to the word "icarus" in most English dictionaries).

Every single time this happens, US domestic news coverage of the test launches is nearly non-existent, before, during, and after the launches. In otherwords, Americans are typically the last to know or those who simply DO NOT KNOW and are NOT ALLOWED to know due to our domestic American censorship programs and other de-facto forms of censorship.

Every time the US Military tests ICBM's every other major military and intelligence organization worldwide has good reason to be concerned. However, here within the USA, the news and governmental organizations make it seem like the only ones destabilizing the world with military bravado are North Korea's military, Russia's military, China's military, and ISIL/Taliban/Al Qaeida.

This is just not genuine and is not savory.
The US goverment and military needs to be more responsible for their own acts of geopolitical destabilization. Peaceful reconcilliation cannot be obtained via lies, propaganda, and hiding the truth from our own citizenry who would otherwise attempt to keep USA organizations more accountable.

There are some international organizations who monitor and publish this type of information with monthly regularity. One such honorable organization is the Nuclear Age PEACE Foundation. They are consultants to the United Nations and have approximately 75,000 members if I remember correctly. Many others can join if so motivated to ensure and maintain Peace.

http://wagingpeace.org

This is no joke.
Read the monthly newsletter The Sunflower, for strong substantiated, well-written evidences of these types of concerns.

Survival is everyone's business.
One last thing:

In recent years, on almost the exact date of the International Day of Peace, the USA conducted a test launch of an InterContinentalBallisticMissile, and/or related launch technologies and scenarios. This is the type of thing that exacerbates international tensions.

Even if some other nations commit absurdist and dangerous moves as well, it is not excusable for the US to be doing this and hiding it from the American people. The news organizations are busy distracting US citizens from the most important issues related to our survival. This is a very large problem.

Fortunately, intellectualism is not subservient to propaganda. But learning and knowledge require effort. Don't give up intellectualism and knowledge and learning just because of the ethical crimes and strategic mistakes of others.

Diplomacy is extremely sophisticated and extremely needed, now more than ever.
This is not a joke. Welcome to now.

Clive RobinsonMarch 9, 2017 1:33 PM

@ Dave,

The NSA/CIA certainly has the capability to hack into NK systems

I would not be to sure on that. Most of the NK computers are not connected to the Internet or other external network, as the leadership does not want the people to find out that their "workers paradise" is different from other "workers paradises".

Likewise the NK Government has developed their own *nix OS called RedStar OS in the west. Because of the paranoia of the NK government not only does it have it's own jail system / walled garden it contains a series of water marking and other hidden surveillance software, which has reporting and self destruct inbuilt to stop tampering and alow constant surveillance instrumentation etc back to the authorities.

Unlike the normal fairly permissive western OSs and networks the paranoia of the NK Government has in effect raised the security barrier quite a lot.

Whilst breaking the OS is possible, getting to it when not connected to networks the CIA or NSA might just get access to potentialy puts some systems out of reach in the Hermit Kingdom.

cognitive dissonanceMarch 10, 2017 5:23 PM

So the US is conducting cyber operations against a country that is developing ICBM's. So rather than approach this through a peaceful solution, Uncle Sam goes straight for the electronic jugular. How does any rational person except North Kore to react? lol

cognitive dissonaceMarch 10, 2017 5:29 PM

@Clive Robinson
This might just be the year of viagra. War Hawks are going to get quite a lot of hard on this year. I just dont see how a confrontation with NK is going to end well.

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