Hackers linked to North Korea reportedly targeted U.S. electric power companies, according to a leading cybersecurity firm.
The rogue regime is believed to have used spearphishing emails to try to breach the security systems of domestic power companies, NBC reported Wednesday, citing a report obtained fromFireEye. The emails included fake invitations to a fundraiser and were designed to trick victims into downloading malware.
There is no evidence that the attacks were successful, and cybersecurity experts believe that North Korea lacks the ability to disrupt the power grid.
North Korea has invested heavily in its cyber warfare capabilities and is believed to have an army of several thousand cyber warriors, many of which received advanced training overseas.
The regime allegedly breached South Korean defense systems late last year and stole classified military documents, including allied war plans for a renewed military conflict on the Korean Peninsula and South Korean wartime defense plans.
North Korean hackers have a history of stirring up trouble, as they have been at it for years.
The rogue regime is suspected to have perpetrated the infamous Sony Pictures hack, incapacitated and stolen millions from top banks, negatively impacted hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide through the spread of ransomware, and disrupted numerous systems across South Korea. There were even concerns that North Korea prepped hundreds of computers for a massive attack on its southern neighbor.
The attacks linked to North Korea have been designed to interfere with the distribution of anti-North Korea propaganda and the acquisition of funds as the international community increases economic pressure on the regime, espionage, and possible retaliation.
Relatively cheap, asymmetric warfare capabilities, like cyberwarfare, give weaker states an ability to strike back against more powerful opponents.
While North Korea was not able to hack U.S. power companies, there are concerns among some of observers that the regime may attempt to damage the power grid by detonating a nuclear device at a high altitude above the U.S., triggering an electromagnetic pulse (EMP).
The dangers of an EMP are debatable, with some claiming that there is no risk of a North Korean EMP attack, given that the North could probably cause significantly more damage with a traditional nuclear strike, and others asserting that an EMP attack could devastate the U.S. After the rogue regime tested a hydrogen bomb early last month, the North claimed that it could trigger an EMP with an atmospheric detonation over the continental U.S. It is unclear if North Korea is actually interested in this approach or simply playing off of hypothetical threats in Western media.
Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command, has stated that the EMP threat is real, but the military appears more focused on North Korea’s ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads. He explained recently that critical U.S. infrastructure is nuclear hardened and able to survive this type of attack. There are also serious concerns about North Korea’s cyberwarfare capabilities, but the U.S. has been carrying out operations of its own to counter North Korean cyber operations in Northeast Asia and elsewhere.
“While I would not characterize them as the best in the world, they are among the best in the world and the best organized,” Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, told the Senate last year.
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