Forget Russia, the US Fought Its First Secret Cyberwar Against North Korea

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Mar 6, 2017
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The US government has spent the last few months, accusing Russia of launching cyber attacks against its election offices to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election. Some believed the intelligence reports, others denied, calling it another way to sabotage the new administration. While the new president had very famously said the country is “so obsolete in cyber,” a fresh report reveals that similar to Russia, the US government has also used cyber warfare against other countries.

Along with a “surveillance engine,” Trump also inherits a cyberwar with North Korea

Last week, we saw leaked documents that revealed the Obama government had funded a project that could be used to accumulate a huge amount of data for mass deportations. But, the new president isn’t only getting a digital surveillance engine from his predecessor. He is also inheriting a cyberwar with North Korea.

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A new report claims that the US government has used cyber warfare to disrupt North Korea’s burgeoning efforts to develop and launch an Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). “Three years ago, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile program in hopes of sabotaging test launches in their opening seconds,” The NYT reported over the weekend.

“Soon a large number of the North’s military rockets began to explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea.”

The story sources its information from officials of the Obama and Trump administrations along with “a review of extensive but obscure public records,” the publication added that before leaving office, Obama warned President Trump that North Korea was likely to be the most urgent problem he would have to confront.

Tough decisions – to continue with the program or to scale back?

According to the report, before leaving office, Obama warned President Trump that North Korea was likely to be the most urgent problem he would have to confront.

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While surprising to a commoner to whom a cyber interference in the presidential election could be something made out of conjecture, experts don’t find the latest information any shocking. Speaking to Business Insider, Dr Ken Geers, a cyber security expert for NATO with experience with the NSA, said that such cyber operations are actually a norm.

Some may find it shocking that the US hacked another country’s missile program, “within military intelligence spaces, this is what they do.” said Geers.

If you think that war is possible with a given state, you’re going to be trying to prepare the battle space for conflict. In the internet age, that means hacking.

While the specifics of the program are unknown, it is believed that the Obama administration used something similar to the notorious “Stuxnet” worm that was used by the American and Israeli governments to combat Iran’s nuclear program – until the country figured it out and recovered from the attack.

Some experts believe that the Obama – and now the Trump – administration had no choice but to try to disrupt the North Korean efforts. Others believe that using cyber weapons to go after a country’s nuclear facilities could have unintended consequences, arguing that errors can also send missiles awry.

Analysts also fear that the country will be setting a precedent for others to attack the US nuclear launch systems. Countries like Russia and China have historically used advanced hacking techniques against the United States. “Once the United States uses cyberweapons against nuclear launch systems – even in a threatening state like North Korea – Russia and China may feel free to do the same, targeting fields of American missiles,” the report added.

Some strategists argue that all nuclear systems should be off limits for cyberattack. Otherwise, if a nuclear power thought it could secretly disable an adversary’s atomic controls, it might be more tempted to take the risk of launching a pre-emptive attack.

Critics also warn if North Korea could itself preemptively attack the US. However, Geers said “North Korea can do a Sony attack or attack the White House, but that’s cause that’s the nature of cyberspace. But if war came, you’d see Cyber Command wipe out most other countries’ pretty quickly.”

Citing the North Korea’s notoriously restricted internet and limited number of servers, Geers said that “if it ever came to cyber war between the US and North Korea, it would be an overwhelming victory for the West.”

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