An attempt by North Korea to fire a missile on Sunday morning failed. The missile is said to have blown up in the sky just a few seconds after taking off. The failure came just a day after the country marked the anniversary of the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung’s birth. There has been speculation though that the failure could directly be attributed to cyber attacks on North Korea by the US. A report on the New York Times confirmed that a secret US-led program had been initiated to use cyber warfare as a means of derailing North Korea’s missile and nuclear program.
The secret cyber war has now been raging for nearly three years. The reported meddling of the US on North Korean missile software and networks has been blamed for much of the failures reported by Kim’s regime. The report also went on to note that the missiles had an 88% failure rate. This is just too much and Sunday’s failure may not be an exception. However, there is a possibility that indeed the failure could just have been caused by poor workmanship.
Senior security adviser to the Trump administration, K.T. McFarland, replied with a “no comment” after she was pressed to address speculations that Sunday’s missile test failures were a result of cyber warfare. She added that she was not in a position to discuss secret programs and covert operations. Mike Pence, who is in South Korea, said on Sunday during a visit to the demilitarized zone that all options remain on the table adding that the era of strategic patience with North Korea is now over.
For many people who have inside knowledge about covert operations in North Korea, the idea that cyber warfare has been explored as a possible solution to derail North Korea’s missile program was unsurprising. For example, Ken Geers, a cyber security expert working with Comodo and with prior experience working with the NSA said that cyber warfare against North Korea has become a norm over the last few years. Even though North Korean computers and networks are highly insulated from potential hacking, Geers said that it wasn’t necessary for a computer to be connected to the internet for it to be hacked.
The report on the New York Times actually cites a case in 1996 where Russian covert operatives gained access to a NATO computer by distributing bugged thumb drives near a Kabul NATO base in Afghanistan. However, despite the cyber-attacks, it is very clear that more needs to be done to derail North Korea’s missile program. Geers added that cyber warfare between the US and North Korea was a complete mismatch favoring the US even with the massive insulation of North Korean computers from the internet. There is no doubt that these attacks will continue and it will be interesting to see just how effective they will be in taming North Korea and its ambition to develop nuclear weapons.