North Korea: Cyber Mad Dogs or Bluster Kings?

Has the manic hornet's nest that is North Korea been stirred so much by the UN's reaction to its missile launch that the Dear Leader bunch might launch a cyber attack on the members of the Security Council? Kevin Coleman, who regularly writes on cyber war issues for DefenseTech, has a penetrating analysis of North Korea's cyber capabilities and discusses the chances North Korea might launch a cyber attack. He notes that, while the North Koreans only spend an estimated $56 million annually on their cyber troops they are ranked eight in the world in terms of effectiveness.

Has the manic hornet’s nest that is North Korea been stirred so much by the UN’s reaction to its missile launch that the Dear Leader bunch might launch a cyber attack on the members of the Security Council? Kevin Coleman, who regularly writes on cyber war issues for DefenseTech, has a penetrating analysis of North Korea’s cyber capabilities and discusses the chances North Korea might launch a cyber attack. He notes that, while the North Koreans only spend an estimated $56 million annually on their cyber troops they are ranked eight in the world in terms of effectiveness.

Kevin’s piece follows:

North Korea warned the United Nations Security Council on April 7th, 2009 that it would take “strong steps” if the fifteen nation body took any action in response to Pyongyang’s launch of a long-range rocket three days earlier. The United States voiced its displeasure calling the launch a “provocative act” that violated a 2006 Security Council resolution prohibiting Pyongyang from conducting ballistic missile launches.

On April 13th, 2009 the United Nations Security Council in a “Presidential Letter” condemned North Korea’s April 5th rocket launch and demanded that Pyongyang not conduct further tests, saying that it would expand existing sanctions against North Korea. The 15 member Security Council voted unanimously for the statement by the council’s president demanding the country make no more launches. This response was one level below a formal resolution.

On April 17th, 2009 Washington increased pressure on North Korea by warning of “consequences” for its recent rocket launch and the latest decision to kick out nuclear inspectors. A State Department spokesperson said that “North Korea has not listened to the will of the international community, and therefore it’s going to have to face the consequences from its unwillingness to meet the international community’s requirements.”

North Korea quickly responded saying any sanctions or pressure to be put upon it as a declaration of undisguised confrontation and a declaration of a war against the DPRK. The North Korean spokesman reportedly said, “There is no limit to the strike to be made by the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK.” North Korea has reacted to the criticism with more than just words. They expelled all nuclear weapons inspectors and declared that they will resume work on nuclear weapons.

Most military strategists agree that cyber attacks are an excellent first strike weapon. In these specific circumstances, cyber attacks might be considered by Pyongyang as an appropriate and proportional response to the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation and reinforcement of existing sanctions. High probability targets if DPRK launches cyber attacks include South Korea and the fifteen countries that make up the current U.N. Security Council that include — permanent members-China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States — and ten non-permanent members Austria, Japan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Mexico, Croatia and Turkey. This calls for increased vigilance by cyber security professionals guarding the critical infrastructure of those targets identified above.

North Korean Cyber Capabilities Estimate:

Unit: 121

Established: 1998

Force Size: 12,000 declining

Cyber Budget: $56+ million.

Goal: To increase their military standing by advancing their asymmetric and cyber warfare capabilities.

Experience: Hacked into South Korea and caused substantial damage; hacked into the U.S. Defense Department Systems.

Threat Rating: North Korea is ranked 8th on the cyber capabilities threat matrix developed in August 2007 and updated February 2009.

Cyber Intelligence/Espionage: Basic to moderately advanced weapons with significant ongoing development into cyber intelligence.

Offensive Cyber Weapons: North Korea now has the technical capability to construct and deploy an array of cyber weapons. They have moderately advanced distributed denial of service (DDoS) capabilities with moderate virus and malicious code capabilities. Hacking capabilities are moderate to strong with an experience rating of limited to moderate.