North Korea hackers could disable US Pacific Command: Report

A picture released on Dec 26, 2016 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivering a speech at the First Conference of Chairpersons of the Primary Committees of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang.
A picture released on Dec 26, 2016 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivering a speech at the First Conference of Chairpersons of the Primary Committees of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang.PHOTO: AFP/KCNA

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A cyberattack by North Koreans could potentially knock out the computer network for the US Pacific Command (USPACOM), warned a report by a state-run agency for the analysis of defence technology.

According to the Defence Agency for Technology and Quality (DATQ), a recent simulation by the Pentagon showed that a full-blown cyberattack by Pyongyang has the capacity to "paralyse" the control centre for the USPACOM while inflicting damage upon the power grid in US mainland.

The USPACOM, one of six geographic combatant commands of the US military, is supported by four component commands: the US Pacific Fleet, US Pacific Air Forces, US Army Pacific and US Marine Forces, Pacific.

The DATQ report said Pyongyang's cyberattack capabilities have gained a reputation among experts, following its 2013 mass attack that hit three major South Korean banks, their affiliates, three TV broadcasters, and infected some 48,000 computers with malicious codes.

The attack was estimated to have caused some 900 billion won (S$1 billion) of damage.

North Korea was also pinpointed by the US authorities as the culprit behind the 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures.

Earlier in the month, it was revealed that the South Korean military's Intranet was breached by what appeared to be acts by North Korean hackers. This resulted in an unspecified number of military secrets being leaked.

North Korea has been making strides in its cyberattack capacity, with the South Korean Ministry of National Defence estimating the North has around 6,800 specialists on cyber terrorism. Some experts believe the actual number might range from 10,000 to 30,000

Local cyber expert Lim Jong In, a professor at the graduate school of information security at Korea University, said cyber terrorism appeals to poorer countries like North Korea, as it can be done on a relatively small budget but still has a large impact.

However, the South Korean military-run cyber command consists only of around 600 personnel, raising concerns over the country's vulnerability toward cyberattacks from Pyongyang, with whom Seoul is still technically at war.

The DATQ report assessed the technological aspects of Seoul's cybersecurity to be under 80 percent of those of developed countries. It said that it is necessary for the authorities to foster capabilities to counter the communist state's cyberthreats.

"The enemy (North Korea) will seek to disable our cyber capacity at a critical point via an all-out cyberattack. ... It is crucial (for South Korea) to establish an asymmetrical cyber warfare capacity to overwhelm that of the North," the report said.