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North Korea Tests ‘Multiple Rocket Launchers and Tactical Guided Weapons’

Kim Jong Un personally “gave an order of firing” of the projectiles into the sea off North Korea’s east coast, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Kumyagang Power Station No. 2 in North Korea in this May 4, 2019, photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency. VOA

North Korea tested “multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons,” state media confirmed Saturday, the first comments on a launch that has further raised military tensions.

Kim Jong Un personally “gave an order of firing” of the projectiles into the sea off North Korea’s east coast, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

Pictures posted in North Korean state media show Kim peering through binoculars during the launch, then smiling as he points at a screen apparently showing an island target being destroyed.

Analysts say one of the weapons fired appears to be a newly developed short-range ballistic missile. If confirmed, it would be the first North Korean missile test in a year and a half.

“The purpose of the drill was to estimate and inspect the operating ability and the accuracy of striking duty performance of large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons,” KCNA reported.

The test is North Korea’s latest attempt to gradually increase pressure on and signal its frustration with the United States and South Korea, since the breakdown of nuclear talks.

Pyongyang’s statement did not contain any explicit threats or even mentions of the United States or South Korea. Seoul on Friday condemned the launch as needlessly provocative and a violation of an inter-Korean military agreement.

multiple rocket launchers
North Korean military conducts a “strike drill” for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into the East Sea during a military drill in North Korea, in this May 4, 2019, photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). VOA

Missile or projectile?

There had been confusion about the exact type of weapons North Korea launched. South Korea’s defense ministry initially characterized the launch as a “short-range missile” test. Later statements referred to the weapons as “projectiles.”

“That’s no projectile,” Jeffrey Lewis, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said in a tweet. “That’s the new SRBM (short-range ballistic missile) that North Korea paraded in February.”

At least externally, the missile appears similar to the Iskandar, a short-range, ballistic missile developed by Russia, analysts say.

Under a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, North Korea is banned from conducting ballistic missile launches. Seoul says the weapons traveled from 70-200 kilometers, which would be classified as a short-range test.

North Korea has not carried out a missile test since November 2017. The self-imposed moratorium has helped facilitate nuclear talks with U.S. President Donald Trump.

In Kim’s view, the moratorium, which was never formalized, does not cover short-range tests. But by launching multiple short-range projectiles, Kim may be attempting to test the limits of how Washington interprets that moratorium.

Last month, North Korea said it tested a “tactical guided weapon.” Commercial satellite images have also detected increased activity at some North Korean nuclear and satellite launch facilities in recent weeks.

multiple rocket launchers
A man watches a television screen showing a news report on North Korea firing several short-range projectiles from its east coast, on a street in Tokyo, May 4, 2019. VOA

Trump: Deal still possible

So far, Trump has played down the provocations. But he has also not signaled a change in his negotiating stance. Reacting to the latest test, Trump said he still believes a nuclear deal with North Korea is possible.

Kim, who wants the removal of international sanctions hurting his economy, has said he will give the United States until the end of the year to become more flexible in the nuclear talks. Trump says he will not relax sanctions until Kim agrees to completely abandon his nuclear program. 

Deadlocked talks

Trump and Kim have held two summits over the past year. At the first meeting, in Singapore, both men agreed to work “toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” But U.S. officials later acknowledged the two sides never agreed on what that means.

At the second meeting in Vietnam, Trump rejected Kim’s offer to dismantle a part of North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for major sanctions relief. Since that meeting, the two sides have struggled to even hold talks, U.S. officials say.

multiple rocket launchers
FILE – U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrives at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, Feb. 3, 2019. VOA

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, will visit South Korea and Seoul later this week to help advance the talks.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in, whose liberal government has prioritized engagement with the North, says he is willing to hold a fourth summit with Kim anytime, anywhere.

Last week, Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said he is willing to meet with Kim “unconditionally and talk with him frankly with an open mind.” (VOA)

Next Story

North Korea Hackers Target Think Tanks, Activists; Reveals Microsoft

By using forwarding rules, Thallium can continue to see email received by the victim, even after the victim's account password is updated

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FILE - A sign for Microsoft is seen on a building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 18, 2017. VOA

Microsoft has revealed that a North Korea-linked hacker group has stolen the sensitive personal information of government employees, think tanks, university staff members, members of organizations focused on world peace and human rights, as well as individuals who work on nuclear proliferation-related issues.

Microsoft has now gained control of 50 domains that the group uses to conduct its operations, the company said on Monday.

With this action, the sites can no longer be used to execute attacks.

A court case against the hacker group, called Thallium, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, resulted in a court order enabling Microsoft to take control of the web domains, Microsoft Customer Security and Trust Vice President Tom Burt said in a blog post.

Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) and the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) has been tracking and gathering information on Thallium, monitoring the group’s activities to establish and operate a network of websites, domains and Internet-connected computers.

This network was used to target victims and then compromise their online accounts, infect their computers, compromise the security of their networks and steal sensitive information.

Most targets were based in the US, as well as Japan and South Korea, Burt said.

Like many cybercriminals and threat actors, Thallium typically attempts to trick victims through a technique known as spear phishing.

FILE - Microsoft Corp. signage is shown outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Wash.
FILE – Microsoft Corp. signage is shown outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Wash. VOA

By gathering information about the targeted individuals from social media, public personnel directories from organizations the individual is involved with and other public sources, Thallium is able to craft a personalized spear-phishing email in a way that gives the email credibility to the target.

The link in the email redirects the user to a website requesting the user’s account credentials.

By tricking victims into clicking on the fraudulent links and providing their credentials, Thallium is then able to log into the victim’s account.

Upon successful compromise of a victim account, Thallium can review emails, contact lists, calendar appointments and anything else of interest in the compromised account.

The hackers often also creates a new mail forwarding rule in the victim’s account settings. This mail forwarding rule will forward all new emails received by the victim to Thallium-controlled accounts.

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By using forwarding rules, Thallium can continue to see email received by the victim, even after the victim’s account password is updated.

“You can protect yourself from these types of attacks in at least three ways. We recommend, first, that you enable two-factor authentication on all business and personal email accounts,” Burt said.

“Second, learn how to spot phishing schemes and protect yourself from them. Third, enable security alerts about links and files from suspicious websites and carefully check your email forwarding rules for any suspicious activity,” he added. (IANS)