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North Korean Cyber Attacks – Old Habits Die Hard

North Korea has continued to surprise the world with its reckless ignorance of the international norms. On one hand, it disregards the existence of any order that imposes rules and regulations and on the other it keeps taking steps to shake the fundamentals of such institutions. The recent revelation about the cyber attacks orchestrated by North Korea that led to bank thefts was another instance of the same.

On 17 February 2021, the United States Department of Justice announced that three North Korean programmers conducted a series of destructive cyber attacks on financial institutions and companies. They went on to extort around USD 1.3 billion. The indictment named the accused as Jon Chang Hyok, Kim Il and Park Jin Hyok and stated that they were all members of a North Korean military agency.

In the past, North Korea has been known to mobilise cyber attacks on the entertainment industry, on SWIFT banking systems and so on. All of them were extremely well organised and resulted in major setbacks and losses. It is believed that these attacks are used to make a corpus fund and are a survival mechanism for the country to sustain. In presence of the strict sanctions that the country faces due to its indifference to the consistent directives and warnings, these attacks especially on banks and related sectors are basically loots to ensure that the economy achieves a basic level endurance. 

The American agency highlighted that there are several means by which the North Koreans have operated in the past including ATM cash-out thefts, creation of malicious crypto currency applications, digital heists, spear phishing and several other schemes. The high scale of these attacks poses a threat to the international community especially due to the fear of its outreach in terms of the nuclear security. 

In order to check similar instances, it is important that the powers of the world come together to create an effective platform for tracing and checking such menace. While the globalised world and its simultaneous developments of technology is a boon for countries and has definitely ‘reduced the distances’, the development of cyber awareness has created major dangers to the economy as well as security all over the world. In addition to a platform to address these threats, a programme to educate people of the seriousness of cyber attack or cyber bullying is also necessary. 

The difficulty in proceeding with such a plan is materliasation of any effort beyond paper. Any such plan would require a universal cooperation with streamlined goals in mind. China in the past has opposed to any such measures in the name of ‘undesirable cornering of states’. The Chinese intervention has often resulted in encouraging North Korea’s malign intentions. The other challenge is the physical amalgamation of any such organisation in a time when such hackers can have affiliations all over the world. The third important hurdle is the economic support to be able support this cause.

Despite these, it is important that cyber hacking be taken seriously to avoid the likes of North Korea from taking un due advantage of technology and promoting dissent of the international order. North Korea has continued to support its economy and has even developed its nuclear weapons programme with the money obtained through such illegal ways. Unless, there is a strict checks and balances system in place, any expectation for a change in ways seems unlikely.