(EastAsiaForum) While South Korea and the United States focus on North Korea’s growing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities, the alliance must increasingly prioritise countering the development of North Korea’s cyber capabilities. Michael Raska, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Military Transformations Program in the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; provides an indepth examination of North Korea’s adoption of quantum encryption technology along with other advanced technologies.
The Korean People’s Army (KPA) and its General Staff Department (GSD) have also been integrating cyber capabilities into conventional military operations. In 2016 the GSD established a new department for Command, Control, Communication, Computer and Intelligence (C4I) to enhance the defensive cyber capabilities of the KPA’s command and control systems. These have been reportedly targeted by a top secret US military program. To counter such measures, North Korea is developing quantum encryption technology in an effort to build a highly secure command and control link between Pyongyang and key missile launching sites.
The use of cyber weapons of mass effectiveness alongside weapons of mass destruction provides Pyongyang with a unified asymmetric strategy designed to pressure the United States and the wider international community to recognise its legitimacy.
Moreover Pyongyang can effectively counter strict economic sanctions through cyber operations, raising hundreds of millions of dollars to support the Kim regime and its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
North Korea’s cyber operations reflect at least three distinct characteristics.
First, North Korea’s cyber units and hacker groups have shown considerable diversity in terms of their capabilities and experience — a range that has made attribution more challenging.
Second, North Korea has gradually demonstrated a resolve for cyber-escalation — targeting the critical infrastructure of other nation states as well as private corporations and banks for varying political motivations.
Third, the essential ‘dialectics of North Korea’s cyberspace’ is still asymmetric. North Korea’s internet infrastructure is isolated from global networks, with the country’s entire internet traffic channelled through only two providers — China’s Unicom and Russia’s TransTeleCom.
North Korea has been gradually gaining a strategic advantage by pursuing cyber capabilities in conjunction with nuclear and ballistic missile programs as asymmetric capabilities, which provide a relatively low-cost but effective means to exert influence. They also provide Pyongyang with a capability for political, economic and military coercion without triggering major armed conflict.