‘If North Korea conducts a provocation such as its seventh nuclear test, we will consider sanctions in the cyber field.’
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lim Soo-Seok said in a strong tone at a regular press conference on November 22.
North Korea has launched a series of ballistic missiles as a provocation against the U.S. and South Korea. The number of launches exceeds 60 this year alone. The source of funds for the missile launches and nuclear development is virtual currency that has been unjustly taken from foreign countries through cyberattacks.
According to the National Defense Research Institute, a South Korean think tank, North Korea’s short-range ballistic missiles cost about 600 million yen each. An intercontinental ballistic missile is said to cost about 4.2 billion yen. 60 missiles would cost at least 50 billion yen.
The U.S. government believes that the huge amount of money obtained through cyber attacks is funding the missile launches. According to calculations by the country’s Department of Homeland Security, North Korea has stolen more than 140 billion yen in virtual currency from other countries through cyber attacks in the past two years. This is why North Korea is able to continue its threats of force despite its economic difficulties due to UN sanctions,” said a reporter from the international section of a national newspaper.
87 Billion Yen for Attack on Popular Online Game
Various examples were introduced at a symposium held jointly by the U.S. and South Korea on November 17 on the theme of North Korean cyber attacks.
In March of this year, North Korea launched a cyber attack on “Axi Infinity,” a popular online game developed by a Vietnamese game production company, allegedly stealing assets worth 87 billion yen. This is the largest-ever theft of virtual currency.
In November 2002, Sony Pictures Entertainment, an American film company, suffered a cyber-attack that resulted in a massive leak of personal information of actors and staff. The company was about to release a film about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. This is probably a backlash against the company for amplifying the negative image of Kim Jong-Un,” said a former employee of the company.
The North Korean hacker group “Lazarus” is behind the cyber attacks.
North Korea began fostering hacker groups as far back as the mid-1980s, and by the 2000s, cyber attacks on foreign countries had already begun. Since the regime of Kim Jong-Un came to power, it seems that their activities have become even more active. According to the South Korean National Defense White Paper, “Lazarus” currently has nearly 7,000 personnel.
The North Korean authorities gather talented IT personnel from their early teens and thoroughly train them at the agency. They take their relatives hostage, make them swear allegiance to them, and then force them to work for IT companies overseas. They hide their real names and other identities, and normally work as normal, but it is believed that they launch cyber attacks when instructed to do so by the spy agency. Lazarus is a fearsome ultra-elite group in North Korea.
The victims of cyber attacks include government offices, financial institutions, and entertainment companies. Japan, in cooperation with the United States, has also strengthened its cyber countermeasures. Japan, in cooperation with the U.S., has also strengthened its cyber countermeasures, warning people not to open suspicious files sent to them by e-mail or other means.