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North Korea and Global Cyber Threat

On December 6, 2016, BBC News World published a feature story on an alleged attack by North Korean hackers on South Korea’s military cyber command (North Korea “hacks South’s military cyber command,” 2016). It is indicated in the story that there are thought to be thousands of professionals in North Korea involved in one way or another in cyber warfare, i.e. the state employs them to develop and commit cyber attacks. These allegations are taken into consideration by South Korea, which is why the latter has a highly efficient system of cybersecurity, especially in the military sphere. However, the military cyber command seems to have been breached. A representative of the South Korean government said that secret information had been stolen, but it remained unknown what kind of information it was and whether it dealt with war plans. The case is unique because, although North Korea had been accused of hacking into South Korea’s financial systems and media (and always denied having done so), it was the first time when military systems were attacked. The story raises several issues of global significance.

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Two particular subthemes featured in the story are the North Korean threat and cybersecurity. The subthemes are intertwined in the article, although they may as well be regarded separately. The idea of threat is expressed through stating that, according to computer science professor from North Korea referred to by BBC News World, thousands of North Korean hackers trained for cyber attacks have been working since 2010 on improving tools for attacking the national infrastructure (North Korea “hacks South’s military cyber command,” 2016). Indeed, it has repeatedly been claimed by the officials of the South that the North undertook attacks on systems used by the government, banks, and media. Although not all the cases were confirmed or taken responsibility for by the North officially, there is a widespread idea that North Korea is, in fact, at cyberwar with its neighbor. More broadly, the North Korean threat goes beyond the area of computer security. The state that explicitly calls many countries in the world its enemies is seen as a threat, first of all, in the literal sense (Cha, 2012). It means that many people around the world are concerned that North Korea might use its weapon, which is constantly being developed and advanced, against other countries.

Another subtheme is cybersecurity, which is an increasingly important topic nowadays. Computer systems have proved to be highly efficient in various spheres where control and cooperation are needed, including the spheres of government work, military, law enforcement, and related areas associated with national security. There is an evident need in every country to make such systems safe. Planting malware on them can result in failures that will make a country temporarily vulnerable. However, attacks for the purpose of such planting are not necessarily aimed directly at damaging a county’s national security. They pursue scaring and intimidating the country, its citizens, and all the audiences who learn about them from mass media (Li et al., 2012). There were cases where financial systems were hacked, but no money was stolen because the attacks had been initiated to show the capabilities of hackers, not to steal anything. Similarly, various infrastructure information systems were hacked without any clear benefits for the hackers except for demonstrating how powerful they were to break those systems’ security barriers. Such cases qualify as terrorism. The very fact that there is such a thing as cyber terrorism (among other kinds of cybercrime) stresses the importance of computer security as a global issue today.

The BBC story’s theme and subthemes can be linked to several important global connections. One of the connections that should be recognized is the worldwide effort to communicate effectively with the government of North Korea and to deal with the threats coming from it. North Korean economy is consistently underperforming, thus failing to provide the citizens with an adequate level of well-being (Haggard & Noland, 2011). Besides, many people are prosecuted for political reasons. At the same time, the state’s government runs a powerful propaganda machine and claims the entire social and political systems of Western countries as well as the lifestyles of their inhabitants to be wrong and reprehensible. North Korea’s discourses are a menace to a large portion of the rest of the world.

It has been acknowledged that global cooperation on the basis of shared democratic values is required to combat the North Korean threat and protect other countries from its aggression. Another global connection is the ongoing attempt to improve cybersecurity under the conditions of global interdependence. A general trend in this area is the necessity to recognize that complex information systems are hard to control and become increasingly vulnerable if overprotected by just one agency or body (Clemente, 2013). A major recommendation in this sphere is to increase the flexibility and adaptability of such systems by improving the cooperation across agencies. One more global connection that can be traced in the story is fighting cybercrime. According to Buono (2014), a major direction in this area is acknowledging that, as crime goes beyond borders nowadays, so should the fighting, i.e. cooperation across countries is needed to effectively address the challenge.


Buono, L. (2014). Fighting cybercrime through prevention, outreach and awareness raising. ERA Forum, 15(1), 1-8.

Cha, V. (2012). The impossible state: North Korea, past and future. New York, NY: Random House.

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Clemente, D. (2013). Cyber security and global interdependence: What is critical? London, UK: Chatham House.

Haggard, S., & Noland, M. (2011). Witness to transformation: Refugee insights into North Korea. Washington, DC: Peterson Institute.

Li, X., Liang, X., Lu, R., Shen, X., Lin, X., & Zhu, H. (2012). Securing smart grid: Cyber attacks, countermeasures, and challenges. IEEE Communications Magazine, 50(8), 38-45.

North Korea “hacks South’s military cyber command.” (2016). Web.

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