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How North Korea uses ‘hermit’ internet infrastructure to launch cyber attacks

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

North Korea, the highly secretive communist nation in East Asia, is carrying out yet another covert operation against its citizens and the world in the form of an aggressive and “oxymoronic” online censorship regime.

While the state officials and other elites have access to global internet, the rest of the nation has restricted access to the global audience in the form closed network called Kwangmyong, an intranet comprising of state approved information.

However, the highly centralised and discriminatory internet model has worked out well in fending off foreign cyber attacks, says a Reuters report.

Five years ago when the United States tried to sabotage North Korea‘s nuclear weapons program with a computer virus, its plan failed miserably.

The joint project of the United States and Israel, relied upon a variant of Stuxnet–a malware that was also used to disturb Iranian centrifuges and used a version of the virus that would be activated after coming in contact with Korean-language settings.

According to reports by Reuters, the campaign was stymied through North Korea’s “utter secrecy, as well as the extreme isolation of its communications systems.”

North Korea’s hermit infrastructure creates a cyber-terrain that deters reconnaissance,” noted an HP Security briefing from 2013.

A secure and structured base of operations for cyber operations and a secure means of communications has been created by North Korea’s air-gapped networks and prioritization of resources for military use.

Apart from beefing up its cyber communication set-up, North Korea also appears to value having offensive cyber capabilities.

“A cyber group known as “Bureau 121”, a group of approximately 1,800 hackers is hand-picked every year from the nation’s top universities,” a North Korean defector said while speaking to Reuters.

Many nations invest in offensive cyber capabilities for two reasons; it is cheaper than maintaining a fleet of airplanes and battle cruisers and responsibility for carrying out attacks can be denied easily.

Moreover, defenders must fend off every attack to win, but hackers only need to breach a system once for a campaign to be successful.

Recently, North Korea‘s government-sponsored hackers have become intensely active.

They are thought to be responsible for carrying out a string of cyber attacks against South Korea’s banking institutions.

The attack on Sony Pictures, apparently in response to a Seth Rogan and James Franco comedy, “The Interview,” which featured a CIA-backed plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has also been blamed on the secretive nation by the United States.

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