PIIE Blog | North Korea: Witness to Transformation
The Peterson Institute for International Economics is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan
research institution devoted to the study of international economic policy. More › ›
Subscribe to North Korea: Witness to Transformation Search
North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Apocalypse Not

by | June 27th, 2013 | 06:20 am


When we last checked in, the hacker group Anonymous was launching Operation Free Korea, seizing control of North Korean websites, publicizing lists of juche-sympathetic subscribers, threatening to steal the personnel data of North Korean leaders, take over that country’s intranet, and even hack into the North’s nuclear facilities, all with the aim of bringing down the Kim Jong-un regime  The group promised a second wave of attacks starting at noon 25 June to commemorate the launch of the Korean War.

The specifics of what actually happened Tuesday are still clouded by the fog of war.  The South Korean National Intelligence Service confirmed that access to a number of North Korea-affiliated websites including North Korea’s official press agency, KCNA, the Worker’s Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, and the Pyongyang Broadcasting Station appeared to have been impaired, but it could not assess the cause or attribute responsibility to Anonymous, or anyone else for that matter.

Anonymous released the personal details including names, dates of birth, addresses, and phone numbers of 13 individuals that it identified as high-ranking cadres.  The addresses are all in China, mostly in Jilin Province. Three of the individuals listed are under 40 years old, raising the question of just how senior these alleged cadres are. Anonymous say they are still confirming some of the information on alleged officials before releasing it.

According to Park Seong Guk in the Daily NK, one hacktivist claimed “’We have obtained tens of thousands of important North Korean documents on things like missiles and weapons,’ before adding that the full collection of documents would be made available via the whistle-blowers’ site Wikileaks at the appropriate time.”

Perhaps the most interesting threat was not to bring down the North Korean intranet but rather to open it up: Anonymous has indicated that they are ready to take control of the North Korean intranet and make the entire World Wide Web available via a “Ninja Gateway.” One group member told Yonhap that the purpose would be to “give unrestricted access to the Internet to the North Korean people and leak information into North Korea.” KCNA pre-emptively ran an editorial last week titled “The illusion of the crazy dogs barking toward the moon” in which they asserted that Anonymous is “under the control of the U.S. and South Korean spy agencies” and that the North Korean intranet system doesn’t exist.

In the meantime, a number of government, ruling party, and media websites were disrupted in South Korea. Initially a message in red reading “Great leader Kim Jong-un” appeared on the home page of the presidential office website. Another message, “We Are Anonymous. We Are Legion. We Do Not Forgive. We Do Not Forget. Expect Us,” subsequently appeared. Anonymous denied responsibility, however. The South Korean government believes a single entity was behind Tuesday’s attacks on the South Korean sites. South Korean defense minister Kim Kwan-jin said that there is an urgent need to upgrade the country’s capacity to resist cyber-attacks.

According to Reuters, unidentified hackers claimed to have accessed personal records of 2 million Korean Workers Party members, as well as 40,000 US troops.  It is a slightly odd claim, insofar as only 28,500 US troops are on the peninsula. US Forces Korea did not immediately comment.