As tensions continue to rise on the Korean peninsula, internet hactivist collective Anonymous has joined the fray — and appears to have been very successful at penetrating North Korea’s superficial cybersecurity defenses. ReadWrite reports:
“On Tuesday, the group claimed to have stolen 15,000 passwords from the communist nation as part of what it calls Operation North Korea. Late Wednesday, as tensions rose in Kaesong over the North’s closure and seizure of a industrial park it shares with the South, along with repeated declarations of nuclear launch, Anonymous advanced its own chess pieces. The hackers allegedly seized control of North Korea’s official Twitter and Flickr accounts, in the process defacing several related websites, and making the autocratic nation look extremely unprepared for cyber attack.”
The primary North Korean propaganda site Uriminzokkiri.com also appears to be down, possibly as the result of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack — all with demands that Kim Jong Un step down in favor of a direct democracy regime, cease “making nukes and nuke-threats,” and allow citizens access to the open internet. All very admirable goals, although it’s highly unlikely North Korean citizens are aware of their regime’s internet embarrassment because of that very lack of internet access: Although the country did briefly open up mobile data access for tourists earlier this year, a policy it reversed very quickly, most North Koreans only have access to the nation’s intranet, Kwangmyong, if anything at all.
Security analysts are skeptical of claims that the group has infiltrated the Kwangmyong, and as others have noted, managing to gain control of social media accounts and taking down the propaganda website are more likely to result in punishments for the lower level North Korean operatives in charge of maintaining those resources than cause the regime to topple.
While Anonymous’s actions certainly demonstrate that North Korea’s cyber defense strategies on superficial sites leave something to be desired, there is also a risk that it could tip the balance of a very delicate diplomatic situation. As ThinkProgress has noted previously, the current situation may be more serious than the saber rattling status quo of Korean peninsular relations recent years: North Korea recently announced an end to the 1953 Armistice Agreement and pledged to attack the U.S. and its allies in the region. While the exact nature of the military threat North Korea poses is debatable, one of the few things that is certain is that the sheer unpredictability of the nation represents a very real threat to global security.
As amusing as Anonymous’s attacks on the country may be, hitting North Korea with the digital equivalent of pocket sand might only serve to anger the regime, possibly even making them blink in a way that is bad for everyone involved.