Fingers in the pot – NSA caught hacking North Korea

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

January 21, 2015

When Sony got hacked in November of last year, it didn’t take long for the US to quickly  and assuredly come forward with news that the hack had been perpetrated by North Korea. To the casual observer, this might seem like an obvious ‘stab in the dark’ by the American intelligence agencies – after all, Sony were just about to release ‘The Interview’ a spoof comedy involving North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un, and so were a natural suspect.

The truth of how Obama came to this conclusion, however, is more complicated.  Leaked documents now reveal that since 2010 the National Security Agency has been working hard (in co-operation with its allies in South Korea) to penetrate the Chinese and Malaysian networks that connect North Korea to the rest of the world. By placing ‘beacons’ inside North Korea’s Computer network, and using malware, it is believed that the spy agency has managed to get a strong foothold inside the networks used by the 6000 strong team of Hackers who work in co-operation with China, and are commanded by the country’s main intelligence service, the Reconnaissance General Bureau.

According to James A. Lewis, a cyber warfare expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, attributing hacks to perpetrators is a slow and complicated job, and the fact that the White House was so quickly able to accuse North Korea shows that the Americans “early warning radar” (as the spy  agency’s program in NK is referred to) must have played a significant role in Obama’s confident finger pointing.

For me, two things stand out like a sore thumb when you start to sink your teeth deeper in to this story. Firstly, if the NSA is so deeply impregnated into North Korea’s computer networks,  then why couldn’t it  give Sony a fair warning about the upcoming hacks before or as they came? Hacks that by the NSA’s own description were incredibly harmful, and carefully and patiently carried out, perhaps starting as early as September.

Secondly, the fact that General James R. Clapper Jr, the director of national intelligence was in Pyongyang on a secret mission earlier in November (the cyber attacks started on the 24th)  to secure the release of two American prisoners, strikes me as ironically well timed – a meeting that by his own admission took place with Kim Yong-chol, head of  the Reconnaissance General Bureau (the man that would orchestrate the Sony hack just week later!) Now I’m not about to start running around shouting conspiracy, but it does seem fishy to me!

North Korea is still denying that it had any involvement whatsoever in the Sony hacks, while simultaneously kicking up a fuss about the US hacking it. FBI Director James Comey, however, continues to confidently insist that North Korea did hack Sony.

Adding even more juice to the story,  an article written by the New York Times claims that the Sony hacks are considered by many cybersecurity industry insiders to be too sophisticated to have been carried out by the North Koreans.  Theories as to who the real culprit might be  range from a possible disgruntled former employee, to somebody posing as the North Korean (as is probable in the recent CENTCOM Twitter ISIS hack).

With Obama threatening sanctions against North Korea because of the hack, tensions between the two nations are at an all time high; but then aren’t they always? I once more can’t help noticing that now Obama is getting closer to his cyber security bill, and I have already asked the question last week as to the possible orchestration of the events that are leading us down that slippery slope.

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