North Korea is more likely to wage a cyberattack against the United States than a military strike, according to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
As tensions build between Pyongyang and Washington in anticipation of possible military action from either, Mr. Kelly told NBC News this week that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is more inclined to direct hackers against American cyber targets in lieu of deploying a more traditional arsenal.
“In the case of North Korea, you know, a kinetic threat against the United States right now I don’t think is likely, but certainly a cyber threat,” Mr. Kelly said in an interview slated to air Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
“So we would raise various threat levels in the event that something happened and we felt as though there were a possible threat. You always want to come down on the side of caution,” he said in a preview.
North Korea and the U.S. each have threatened military action one another in recent days amid reports the former is readying a possible nuclear test to commemorate the anniversary this weekend of the birth of its founder, Kim il-Sung.
Yet despite being largely otherwise disconnected from the outside world, U.S. officials have acknowledged the hermit kingdom is most certainly capable of compromising American computer networks, notably evidenced by the 2014 cyberattack suffered by Sony Pictures Entertainment and widely attributed on North Korea.
Private researchers and U.S. government officials alike have attributed North Korean hackers with several recent high-profile security incidents including the Sony breach, but haven’t put Pyongyang’s actors in the same category as those doing the bidding for Beijing, Moscow or Washington.
Nonetheless, former President Obama’s director of national intelligence said last year that hackers from North Korea as well as Iran continue to pose problems for American networks.
“While both of these nations have lesser technical capabilities in comparison to Russia and China, these destructive attacks demonstrate that Iran and North Korea are motivated and unpredictable cyber-actors,” James Clapper said.
“North Korea is not famous for its considerable levels of access to the international community nor its internet infrastructure,” Jon Condra, director of East Asian research and analysis at Flashpoint, a threat intelligence firm, told CyberScoop recently. “That said, they’ve invested significantly in developing asymmetric cyber capabilities as a means of countering a symmetric military advantage on behalf of the United States and its allies in the region.”
President Trump tweeted Tuesday that North Korea was “looking for trouble” in response to reports of a possible nuclear test. On Friday, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Han Song Ryol, said Pyongyang would launch a “preemptive strike” if necessary.
“We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. preemptive strike,” he said.