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Playing blind-man's buff: Estimating North Korea's cyber capabilities

By Tobias Feakin

This paper aims to create a clearer understanding of the size and scope of North Korean cyber capabilities.

Due to the opaque and secretive nature of the North Korean regime, and the difficulties of attribution in cyberspace, it is problematic to present a complete picture of the North’s malicious activities in cyberspace.

This paper presents an open source literature based review of this issue. It begins by defining terminology used to describe cyber threats, and whilst seemingly these threats are new, cyberspace has merely facilitated a new method of achieving old ends. North Korean motivations for developing cyber capabilities are examined, followed by an examination of the historical context to their development of such efforts, and a breakdown of the various North Korean military departments involved cyber activities is presented.

An analysis of the growing private sector-led evidential trail of North Korean cyber attacks is followed by an assessment of the impacts that these attacks have had on South Korean policymaking, and operational responses.

Finally the author examines the potential impacts for national and regional destabilisation that unabated North Korean cyber attacks could have, concluding that severe damage to South Korea’s economic, political and international reputation could be a distinctly negative consequence.