Academic journal article Military Review

North Korean Cyber Support to Combat Operations

Academic journal article Military Review

North Korean Cyber Support to Combat Operations

Article excerpt

As recently as 2014, some Western cyber experts were describing the cyber capabilities of North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK) with apparent indifference, such as Jason Andress and Steve Winterfield in Cyber Warfare: Techniques, Tactics and Tools for Security Practitioners, who characterized the DPRK's capability to carry out cyberattacks as ".. questionable, but [it] may actually exist."1 The well-known November 2014 cyberattack attributed to the DPRK, executed against Sony Corporation as a response to the film The Interview, helped change perceptions in the United States of DPRK cyber capabilities-from a minor local nuisance directed at South Korea (the Republic of Korea, or ROK) to a major global strategic threat.2

While the DPRK has been considered a major strategic cyber threat since the attack on Sony, consideration also should be given to the potential tactical use of cyber capabilities as an extension of its warfighting strategy. objective of the DPRK, according to Korea expert James M. Minnich.4 As a 2012 report to Congress pointed out, however, the real purpose of the DPRK's military policy and political aggressiveness has become to control and subdue its own population and retain power rather than to unify the Korean Peninsula.5 Nonetheless, events such as the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 and the exchange of artillery fire in Yeoncheon in 2015 have shown that minor provocations have the potential to erupt into open combat. Moreover, combat could become full-scale war. Whether through accidental escalation of force or a premeditated surprise invasion, the DPRK may be fully willing to go to war.6

Following its failure in the Korean War, the DPRK expanded and reorganized its military using features of the Soviet and Chinese militaries. Subsequently, it has continued to draw influence, equipment, and doctrine from Russia and China, according to Minnich.7 To avoid the same fate as the drawn-out invasion of the ROK,

The less familiar tactical use of cyberattacks as a means of warfighting poses a greater threat to ROK and U.S. forces than any politically motivated strategic cyberattack ever could. The DPRK military's materiel is considered technologically obsolete at the tactical level. However, evidence suggests the Korean People's Army (KPA) will conduct cyber operations as an asymmetric means to disrupt enemy command and control and to offset its technological disadvantages during combat operations; therefore, U.S. and partner forces should prepare for this threat.3

North Korean Military Strategy

To understand how the DPRK would be likely to conduct tactical cyber operations in support of combat units during war, it is helpful to consider the historical aims and presumed military theory of the increasingly isolated and technologically declining nation. After failing to unify the peninsula from 1950 to 1953, kukka mokp'yo-communization of the ROK, through military force if necessary-became and has remained a primary the DPRK military appears to have developed a strategy known as kisub chollyak, which calls for a quick, decisive war conducted with mixed tactics against ROK and U.S. military forces on the peninsula.8 This approach has become more intransigent over time due to the DPRK's increasing economic inability to sustain a protracted war. Therefore, to achieve its tactical objectives as rapidly as possible, the DPRK has organized its military to initiate combat with "massive conventional and chemical cannon and missile bombardments while simultaneously employing special operations forces teams," according to Minnich.9 Estimates of the number of DPRK special operations forces vary between eighty thousand and one hundred eighty thousand soldiers who could conduct asymmetric attacks in the south, intended to enable the large-scale light infantry forces that would follow.10

Initially, the DPRK likely considered bombardment and special operations followed by a large-scale invasion force sufficient to quickly disrupt, confuse, outmaneuver, and overwhelm peninsula-based ROK and U. …

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