Category Archives: North Korea

South Korea’s Ministry of Defense to double size of cyber command in face of cyber attacks from North; effort unlikely to succeed

I’ve been following North Korean cyberattacks on the South for several years, so it was interesting to see the South’s Ministry of Defense announce (English, Korean) yesterday that it was already doubling the size of its Cyber Command, to 1000 people. Given it just launched the command in January 2010, deciding to increase the size already indicates the seriousness with which it views the threat of North Korean cyber attacks, plus the easy availability of funding for this new arena of conflict.

North Korean cyber attacks on the South include jamming GPS signals (forcing planes at Inchon international airport to use alternate systems when landing and taking off), locking up to 30 million account holders (a number which seems awfully high, but I’m quoting the article) out of Nonghyup, the South’s main agriculture and cooperative bank, and hacking the email accounts of Korea University’s Graduate School of Information Security (one of the South’s top schools). With public, embarrassing attacks such as these, the North has certainly caught the attention of the South’s defense and cyber establishments, helping drive the expansion in funding and personnel resources.

The added capabilities are to include both defensive and offensive programs, with the second being the more interesting of the two. Given North Korea’s much more limited use of the Internet – essentially a few elites conducting research and military/intel groups looking for information and opportunities – the well-wired South has far more to lose in an online confrontation than the hardscrabble North. Combine Southern reliance on the Internet with the difficulty of definitively tracing the origin of a cyber attack, and, expanded capabilities or not, the South looks to lose a few more rounds of this battle.


Living in the past: South Korean Defense Ministry steps up radio broadcasts into DPRK

The South Korean Defense Ministry reportedly (North Korea Tech) stepped up shortwave radio broadcasts into North Korea from 9 August.


The North jams most, if not all, of the signals, few North Koreans own shortwave radios, and decades of similar expense and effort have resulted in … well, nothing.

Instead of spending money on radio programs no one can listen to, using signals the North will jam, it’s time for a new tool. The South should be investing in cellphone towers along the DMZ and in supporting efforts by defectors to infiltrate phones into the North (read more on those efforts from The Asahi Shimbun or The Atlantic).


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North Korean Propaganda Posters

UPDATE (JUL 2015): It’s been a while, but just added about a dozen new posters and images to the Facebook page, plus posted a couple below.

UPDATE (DEC 2014): I added some new posters below (including a translation of the Korean on the movie poster promoting ‘The Interview’) and to the Facebook page. As always, thanks for stopping by and let me know if you have any posters you’d like translated.

UPDATE (JAN 2014): The propaganda posters and English translations have now been compiled into a brief ebook introducing North Korean history, culture, and ideology – WORK HARD FOR THE KIMS!, available now on Amazon, iBooks/iTunes, Nook, and Kobo. The images and translations in the book are from those below and on the Facebook page. Please let me know of other images you’d like to see translated.

UPDATES (9 Dec 2013, 25 Apr, 18 Jan, 7 Dec 2012, 15 Nov, 18 Oct): More images have been uploaded. Please feel free to suggest additional images you’d like to have translated.

In what will hopefully be an ongoing project, I’ve posted a few North Korean propaganda posters, with rough translations, to the Facebook page. Once there, click the photo to read the translation and related comments.

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“To Expect ‘Change’ from DPRK Is Foolish Ambition: Spokesman”

One of the best (i.e. amusing and somewhat readable) and most interesting (i.e. not solely about the godlike exploits of the Great/Dear/Newest Leader) articles from North Korea’s official news agency I’ve come across in a while. Give it a click if you have a few minutes.

With the recent change in leadership brought on by the death of Kim Jong-il and succession of his son Kim Jong-un, has come heightened speculation on possible changes, reforms, modernization, and the like in North Korea. This article is North Korea’s forceful response. Some of the highlights, aside from the headline:
  • “Upset by this, the puppet group [i.e. South Korea] let experts in the north affairs and others interpret the stirring situation of the DPRK in a self-centered manner, vociferating about ‘signs of policy change’ and ‘attempt at reform and opening’. This ridiculous rhetoric only revealed its ignorance and sinister intention against the DPRK.”
  • “As far as ‘signs of policy change’ are concerned, there can not be any slightest change in all policies of the DPRK as they are meant to carry forward and accomplish the ideas and cause of the peerlessly great persons generation after generation [highlighting and justifying the family-based leadership successions], to all intents and purposes.”
  • “From decades of trumpeting ‘reform and opening’ to impose their corrupt system upon the DPRK, the hostile forces now seem to have been preoccupied by hallucination that such a move is taking place in the DPRK. Such idiots ignorant of the DPRK are professing experts in the north affairs. Pitiful are the U.S. and the puppet group which are resorting to foolish ambition on the basis of their sham analysis.”
  • [My favorite]: “To expect ‘policy change’ and ‘reform and opening’ from the DPRK is nothing but a foolish and silly dream just like wanting the sun to rise in the west.”

Except for a few changes around the edges, this is one of the rare times North Korea’s official line actually conflates with reality.


Workers’ Party vs. Military Fight in North Korea?

Two stories out earlier today point to an internal power struggle in Pyongyang, likely in favor of the Workers’ Party (North Korea’s ruling party calls itself the Workers’ Party, not the Communist Party) over the military. According to Reuters, the new leader, Kim Jong-Eun, has sided with the party over the military in an effort to advance economic reforms and growth.

According to a separate story from the Chosun Ilbo (South Korea’s largest newspaper), there was a brief firefight this week when forces loyal to Kim Jong-Eun (and his uncle, the behind-the-scenes powerbroker Jang Song-taek) went to detain and remove from power the head of the North Korean army, Ri Yong-ho. According to government and intelligence officials in the South, forces loyal to Ri engaged those attempting to detain him, killing 20-30 soldiers and possibly injuring or killing Ri.

With Kim III’s assumption of power after a very short transition, such struggles were to be expected as he put his own (or his uncle’s) people in power. This week’s episode now becomes a leading example of that struggle. Going forward, if the military begins to feel threatened by an increasingly powerful Workers’ Party, things could get very dicey in the North. However, by replacing the head of the Army with a trusted loyalist, Kim appears to be mitigating those risks, whether the military likes it or not.

Any dynastic succession, whether ancient royal history or modern communist era, is going to have problems as power moves from one generation to the next. Kim Jong-il, when he took over from his father in 1994, faced the same issues. At the time, he sided with the military over the party to break free from his father’s center of power and create his own. Kim Jong-eun appears to be swinging the pendulum back in favor of the party, perhaps as a way of quickly winning allies for restoring the party to its former ‘glory’. It’ll be interesting to see if this marks the beginning of a dangerous military vs. party struggle for control, or was simply the final, public denouement of that battle.


Reuters Insight: North Korean Defector Smuggling Networks

Great overview from Reuters today about North Korean refugee smuggling networks and how they get cash into, and information out of, North Korea. Aside from a much longer article in April’s The Atlantic, this is one of the better English-language overviews on the subject.

For a case study on how effective these networks can be, please see last year’s posting – Paper Excerpt: Case Study on Using North Korean Defector-run Networks to Monitor Conditions Inside North Korea.


How to send mail to North Korea; China to grant visas to 40K NK workers, miners

Two surprising North Korea stories today: Inter-Korean mailman goes legit about a new South Korean organization focused on helping separated family members send mail and donations, plus arrange meetings, with people inside the North (actions normally semi-legal, at best, in SK). The story highlights the experience and skills the organization’s 80-year-old founder has used to overcome barriers to smuggle get items into, and information out of, North Korea. A useful, interesting skill set indeed.

The second is China hires tens of thousands of North Korean guest workers about China’s plan to support the North, and dodge sanctions on aid to NK, by granting visas to at least 40,000 guest workers to labor in factories, mines, and construction projects in Chinese cities along the border. These northeastern areas of China, unlike the southeast and other more developed regions, have little need for additional, low-cost workers – highlighting both the concerns China has over North Koreans getting past its border region, and the aid-based, versus business-need, focus of the effort.


NK Resumes GPS Jamming in SK

UPDATE (3 July): Pyongyang denied it was responsible for the jamming. Thanks to North Korea Tech for the updated info (and my apologies for taking so long to post it).

North Korea has reportedly revived last year’s campaign to jam GPS signals in South Korea, harassing flights around both Incheon and Kimpo international airports. Affected airlines include Korean Air, United, and Delta, plus international freight carriers FedEx and UPS.

Last year’s jamming campaign only lasted for a few days, but this year’s has been ongoing since the end of April. The South plans to protest the North’s action (something I’m sure is keeping NK’s leaders awake nights) to the International Telecommunication Union. Much handwringing and a very light slapping of wrists likely to ensue.

Unlike last year, there are no reports of the jamming affecting cellphone systems inside Seoul – perhaps due to SK Telecom (and presumably others) updating their systems to protect against NK jamming.

Interesting to see how NK, easily East Asia’s least technologically advanced country, is attempting to weaponize the technological sophistication of its rivals by finding and exploiting the new weaknesses of the networked era. Jamming GPS signals and launching hacker offensives at the South is a relatively cheap, safe, and punishment-free way of tormenting its neighbor, giving Pyongyang’s military and hardliners something to do, and developing a new chip to be traded away for some future benefit. Worth keeping an eye on.


Pyongyang adds new Kim Jong-il statue to skyline

In less time than it takes DC to repair an escalator, North Korea added a giant new statue of Kim Jong-il to a hill overlooking Pyongyang. Shown here (image courtesy the Washington Post), is the new statue of Kim, apparently built since his death in December, standing next to the statue of his father that has long overlooked the Pyongyang skyline.

Kim Statues

I’ve been to the monument and stood at the foot of the older Kim Il-sung statue and can attest that pictures do them no justice.


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North Korean Missile Launch

A couple of thoughts on North Korea’s recent missile launch:

1. Rather than a sign of the North being up to its old tricks, agreeing with the U.S. one minute, then ‘crazily’ breaking the agreement in order to launch a missile the next, the confusion is likely a sign of factional struggle and lack of clear leadership in Pyongyang. One silo group, more technocratic and concerned with food shortages, pushed for the food aid agreement with the U.S. and got it. Another group, more military and ideological, pushed for the test, regardless of any agreement. This group also got what it wanted. A lack of clear guidance from the top allowed the second group to cancel out the work of the first. A sign of new, confused leadership still trying to navigate (rather than manage or dictate to) the various entrenched factions of NK’s government, not a sign of craziness or some nefarious plot to make the U.S. look bad.


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  • What’s the upside to blindsiding SK and Japan? - Looming war games suspension raises concern in Seoul - posted on 15/06/2018

  • North Korea Relies on American Technology for Internet Operations - posted on 07/06/2018

  • Alright, everybody chip in 20 points from Holiday Inn rewards ... - posted on 02/06/2018

  • Analysis: North Korea sees US economic handouts as threat - posted on 29/05/2018

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