Within the long history of warfare, cyberattacks are a relatively new method of battle, but can potentially be categorized as weapons of mass destruction. While not deadly in an of themselves, cyberattacks open the door to any number of various military actions. Recently, a two incidents have brought the severity of cyberwarfare to the forefront of political attention, one of which likely involving the most internally hostile nation (according to Open Doors International) in the world: North Korea.
According to a New York Times article, “Computer networks running three major South Korean banks and the country’s two largest broadcasters were paralyzed Wednesday [March 13, 2013].” Two major television broadcast stations were unable to use their computer systems and one website was shut down. Also, citizens were unable to access their bank accounts throuh ATMs. Although the ISP address originating the attack was located in China, the malware virus titled “DarkSeoul” is believed to be sent by North Korean operatives.
It is intended to evade some of South Korea’s most popular antivirus products and to render computers unusable. In Wednesday’s strikes, the attackers made no effort to disguise the malware, leading some to question whether it came from a state sponsor… or whether officials or hackers in North Korea were sending a specific, clear message: that they can reach into Seoul’s economic heart without blowing up South Korean warships or shelling South Korean islands.
One suspicion of North Korea comes from the fact that the attacks happened only a few days after the North blamed the South and the United States for attacks on its own Web sites; however, South Korea is not anxious to blame the North for the attacks even though the North has been threatening various attacks, including nuclear ones. Another suspicion comes from the fact that the attacks occured during major military exercises of South Korean and US forces. Additionally, the attacks were not quite as sophisticated as previous ones from China against the US, giving China at least some benefit of the doubt.
Broadcasters and banks were not the only ones hit. A second attack self-titled “Hitman 007-Kingdom of Morocco” hacked the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea’s database, stealing various documents the day before the UNHCR was set to vote on “the establishment of an independent investigation of North Korean human rights abuses.” Evidence of a connection between the two attacks is yet to be found.