Category Archives: North Korea

SK Cops: North Responsible for March Cyberattack

The “cyber cops” at South Korea’s National Police Cyber Terror Response Center announced today that North Korea was responsible for an early March cyber attack on South Korean websites (related posting here). The latest attack reportedly used the same techniques and IP addresses as a 7 July 2009 attack also blamed on the North. The latest attack reportedly harnessed 746 servers in 70 countries in a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on 40 South Korean websites. With two attacks, both somewhat successful, and no repercussions, look for the North to continue this method of provocation, especially if Kim Jong-eun really is in charge of the unit conducting the attacks. Given the current (lack of) food situation in the North, an April or May provocation to help unite North Korea’s domestic populace during the depths of the food crisis is increasingly likely (ala last year’s attack on the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island / 연평도).  
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SK Telecom to Protect Customers from North Korean Jamming

Interesting follow-up to a previous report on North Korea attempting to jam GPS signals in Seoul and other areas of the South back in early March. SK Telecom, one of the South’s leading telecom providers, announced today that it had developed a new technique to protect 2G and later phones from future jamming attempts. The company plans to update its systems and fully implement the added protections by mid-April, helping safeguard its customers and their phones not only from future GPS jamming attempts, but also attempts by the North to block or reduce call quality.

In a surprising twist, SK also said it would make the knowledge available for free to other telecoms, apparently viewing the jamming as a national security issue rather than a chance to make a quick buck. Kudos to SK for that.

South Korea uses the CDMA system, like Verizon in the U.S., but not GSM (like AT&T). So the new technique is likely readily replicable by Verizon, should it so decide (in case Canada attacks?), but may be more complicated for AT&T (or anyone trying to use a GSM phone in South Korea).

 
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North Korea Continues to Pass the Tin Cup

The Chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly was recently in Britain begging for food, part of a recent campaign by the North to acquire food supplies for:
  1. The brutal April to May ‘hardship period’ (춘궁기) when the previous year’s harvest has been largely consumed, but food from the spring plantings has yet to arrive. This is the reason given by the North Koreans for their current, desperate need for food aid. While it is at least partly true, no mention is made that April and May come every year, that the South conquered this problem back in the 70s (many older South Koreans can also vividly recall the difficult period between harvests), and that the North’s problems are largely of the leadership’s creation.
  2. The reason commonly advocated by conservatives in the South (and likely partially true as well), is that the North is stockpiling food to celebrate 2012, the year the country’s leadership promised to become a “powerful and prosperous nation” (as mentioned in a previous post).
Combine these doubts with Kim Jong-il’s recent offer to donate $500,000 to Japanese relief efforts, made at the same time the UN was reporting the North needed aid to feed six million people, and you can see why the North is having difficulty attracting much international support. Caught in the middle? The six million hungry people.  
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NK to Qaddafi: Sucks to Be You; Should Have Kept Your Nukes

A Foreign Ministry spokesman from North Korea announced the North’s takeaway from the situation in Libya: never give up your nuke program. “The present Libyan crisis teaches the international community a serious lesson. It was fully exposed before the world that ‘Libya′s nuclear dismantlement’ much touted by the U.S. in the past turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby the latter coaxed the former […] to disarm itself and then swallowed it up by force. It proved once again the truth of history that peace can be preserved only when one builds up one′s own strength [i.e. a nuclear weapons program].” Quoted from the North’s official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) website; click here for the full report (the KCNA website is normally blocked in South Korea, so the link will likely not work if you are accessing the site from the South).

The KCNA story has the rare virtue of making a good point: one of the side-effects of the current decision to give the Navy something to do launch attacks on Libya (whether you believe they are justified or not), combined with Qaddafi’s previous decision to abandon his nuclear program, is going to be strengthening the resolve of countries like North Korea to develop and maintain their own nuclear programs. I would be surprised if Iranian leaders in Tehran and Qom are not drawing similar conclusions.

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June Trip to North Korea for NK Specialists, Academics

I got an email over the weekend from Asia Pacific Travel, Ltd. announcing an 8-18 June trip to North Korea for “Koreanists and other academics”. The trip is billed as an “educational tour” and includes Charles Armstrong, a Korean Studies professor at Columbia. Click here for more info from the company’s website about the trip. From experience, trips for U.S. citizens to the North require several weeks of planning and preparation to get the required approvals and visas, so please act quickly if you are interested. This site and its author have no connection with Asia Pacific Travel.
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North Accuses U.S. Soldiers of … Partying

Perhaps tired of calling us imperialist, colonialist oppressors, the North on Sunday accused U.S. soldiers of trespassing in the DMZ to party. Specifically, according to the South’s Herald Media, quoting the North’s official media, the U.S. soldiers, “came within 20 meters of the military demarcation line with women, taking photos and throwing bottles of alcohol toward North Korean troops.” In response to such dastardly acts, the North actually didn’t vow to turn Seoul into either a sea of fire or a sea of blood, as it commonly does when it’s mad. Instead, it threatened “human damage” to the South if it continues to allow “U.S. invasion forces to act rampantly” inside the DMZ. While I’ve been to the DMZ a dozen times, nearly gotten into a fight on the North’s side, and had a great lunch at the Swiss and Swedish outpost in the DMZ (Wikipedia entry on NNSC here), I can’t say I’ve ever gone up there to drink and throw bottles at North Korean troops. Did this really happen? Given the number of cameras up there, and the relative scarcity of U.S. troops at the border these days, I’ll remain unconvinced until I see some actual video, in which case I will update this posting with links to the video. If you come across anything, let me know!
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April’s The Atlantic Does Story on “North Korea’s Digital Underground”

Interesting story from this April’s The Atlantic on how North Korean defector organizations are successfully pursuing information collection inside North Korea. I’ve read defector reports for years and this article does a great job outlining their methods, dangers, and reach. For a case study on how effective the reports can be, please see an early posting here on my blog.
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Food Crisis in North? Or Pyongyang Planning Big Bash for 2012?

A couple of days after reports emerged of North Korean officials “begging” for food, even from countries in some of the world’s poorest regions, comes another report quoting an official at the Blue House (the home of South Korea’s president) casting doubt on the North’s need for food. According to the official, the North’s requests are part of preparations for 2012, the year the North promised its citizens it would become a “powerful and prosperous nation.” A quote from the Blue House official: “It is my understanding that the North’s harvest increased last year from the previous year […] We must keep in mind the possibility that the North is stockpiling food, while giving smaller rations. In that case, NGOs and foreign relief agency workers probably think the food shortage has worsened.” This contrasts with a November 2010 report from the World Food Programme (WFP), “About five million people living in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will continue to face food shortages despite a relatively good harvest and a slight increase in food supply.” The main difference between the two sources is that the WFP and other foreign relief organizations have people working on the ground in the North. The Blue House is basing its information on … defector reports? Intel? Politics? Neither, both, or either source could be correct … and the people ruling in Pyongyang who may know the answer aren’t talking.  
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Cyberwar in Korea – Kim Jong-eun’s Key to the Throne?

South Korea’s Defense Minister accused the North today of attempting to jam military communications in the South during joint U.S. – South Korean military exercises, with the GPS-disrupting signals used in the attack being traced back to military bases in North Korea’s Kaesong and Mt. Geumgang/Kumgang. Along with that attack, a South Korean defector organization, citing sources inside the North, is blaming the North for a 3 March cyberattack on government and business websites in the South. An earlier posting examined the GPS jamming attack on the South, but today’s defector report suddenly makes the cyberattack on the South Korean websites last week look a little more interesting. According to the report, the North was not only responsible for the attack (plus an earlier one on 7 July 2009), it was Kim Jong-eun, Kim Jong-il’s son and current heir to the throne, who was in charge of the attacks. While a single-source report from a website working toward regime change in the North is hardly definitive, it raises an interesting parallel for examining leadership succession in Pyongyang.
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GPS Problems in Seoul?

UPDATE (5 April): SK Telecom announced today that it was updating its systems to protect from future jamming attempts. Only a few days after a 3 March attack on South Korean government and business websites (Yonhap), Korean media is reporting today that North Korea attempted to jam GPS signals in the Seoul metropolitan area, causing “disruptions” to both military and public GPS systems. The attempted jamming is believed to be in response to current joint U.S., South Korean military drills – previous drills last August also brought jamming attempts by the North. Why is the North suspected? The signals sent to jam the equipment were traced back to North Korean military bases in Haeju and Kaesong, near the DMZ and, especially in the case of Kaesong, within the 50-100km range of the Russian jammers believed to have been used in the attacks. The North has reportedly purchased larger jammers capable of covering 400km, nearly all of South Korea, but they were not involved in the recent attacks. What motivated the North? Likely the chance for a real-life test of its equipment and the effect it would have on U.S. and South Korean forces. Advanced military systems were reportedly unaffected, but older equipment, plus civilian cellphones and GPS navigations systems, experienced some problems. Russian-made jammers? The equipment used by the North is believed to be Russian, either purchased and imported by the North, or made in the North to the specs of the Russian equipment. The device used is likely a W40,000 ($35) handheld piece of equipment manufactured by the Russian defense firm, Aviaconversiya [info on the firm from a recent ‘international defence exhibition and conference’ in Abu Dhabi, plus a small Wikipedia entry], and first displayed at the 1999 Paris Air Show. If you’ve been having problems with your GPS in Seoul the past few days, now you know why …
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