North Korea scares the West

Pierluigi Paganini March 30, 2012

According to US official declarations North Korea has added new sophisticated cyber weapons to its arsenal, the event causes much concern in political and military. The dialogue between Western governments, and particularly the U.S, with the government in Pyongyang continues to be difficult, complicating the situation is the defiant attitude adopted by the North Korean government that intends to make a series of military exercises next month, testing and launching new missiles. North Korea has declared that the rocket to be launched to mark the 100th birthday of deceased state founder Kim Il-sung and will be used to putting a weather satellite into orbit  Security experts are convinced that it will be an opportunity to test long-range missile for this reason Security Council resolutions ban any these launches.

“This planned launch is highly provocative because it manifests North Korea’s desire to test and expand its long-range missile capability,” said Lavoy.

The launch also violates a missile moratorium that Pyongyang government signed to on Feb. 29 with the US in exchange for food aid. The North Korea is progressing with the development of announced military strategy, according to report of American intelligence, the area used for the exercises will be near the border with China, in the northwestern of the country. North Korea’s neighbors are concerned about the launch of a rocket that will fly over Philippines or Indonesia and there is no confidence regarding the stability of the missile. The Web site published satellite imagery last week of a launch pad and tower without a rocket at the Tongchang-dong launch site.


Let’s make some simple consideration on the geography of the region. The principal enemy for North Korea is the South Korea, that’s why it has deployed most of its forces in the demilitarized bordering zone. More than half of South Korea’s population lives in the vicinity of its capital Seoul, a possible missile attack toward the city would lead the nation into a panic. A similar effect can also be obtained with a cyber warfare operation against critical infrastructures in the country. The North Korea is aware of this opportunity and it is approaching all the major options. Obviously, the computer option may have already been initiated and be operating in silent that really frightens the government of South. Banks, Telecommunication networks, industries, but also intelligence agencies may already have been unwitting victims of cyber attacks.

Let consider that North Korea has the highest percentage of military personnel in relation to population than any other nation in the world, with approximately 40 enlisted soldiers per 1000 people with a considerable impact on the budge of the country.  Don’t forget also that North Korea has capabilities that also include chemical and biological weapons.  A defector has declared that North Korea has increased its cyber warfare unit to staff 3,000 people and it is massive training its young prodigies to become professional hackers.

Intelligence sources in South Korea believe that the Nation has a large a cyber force that responds to the command of the country’s top intelligence agency, the General Reconnaissance Bureau.

The Reconnaissance Bureau of the General Staff Department is responsible for collecting strategic, operational, and tactical intelligence for the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, and this special unit is responsible for the cyber attacks conducted in the last years against foreign countries like South Korea.
The US military officials have reported to the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee that North Korea has a large conventional military, has developed a worrying nuclear weapons programs, acquiring new capabilities in ballistic missiles sector and improving cyber warfare techniques.

According to the revelation of Army General James Thurman, the commander of US Forces Korea, the government of Pyongyang is massively investing in cyber warfare capabilities, recruiting and forming a high skilled team of hackers. The groups will be engaged in offensive cyber operations against a hostile government and in cyber espionage activities.

The central government reserves for young hackers several incentives providing best tools on the market and providing living conditions for them and their families extremely advantageous. The importance assigned to the professional development of new cyber military is indicative of the perception of how the cyber warfare is strategic for the nation.

The death of the leader Kim Jong in December seems hasn’t any effect on the politics of the country, contrary to the wishes the relations and cooperation with China have been strengthened. The China’s support is the main concern due to the known capabilities of cyber units and its aggressive cyber strategy.

Looking the list of IXP (Physical Infrastructures through which Internet service providers (ISPs) exchange Internet traffic between their networks (autonomous systems)) we can observe the absence of North Korea so how the country access to internet?

Through China of course!

It is difficult to be a real cyber army without a direct pipe to the web. Evidence of Chinese collaboration has been collected with many analysis tracing back the cyber attacks to source addresses. Well regarding several attacks there were no attempts to hide their origin. Mainly there are two blocks of IP addresses that can be identified as North Korean but owned by China Netcom, one of China’s largest Internet service providers, but they are assigned to the Korea Posts and Telecommunications Co., the government-run telco.

A further element of concern is represented by the next elections to be held in South Korea, in April and December because North Korea can try to disturb and influence its regular course and outcome. The moment will be really critic and the risks are really high.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – North Korea, Information Warfare)

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