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U.S. Army Report Describes North Korea’s Cyber Warfare Capabilities

A report published recently by the U.S. Army describes North Korea’s cyber warfare capabilities and provides information on various units and their missions.

A report published recently by the U.S. Army describes North Korea’s cyber warfare capabilities and provides information on various units and their missions.

The 332-page report, titled “North Korean Tactics,” details North Korean forces and their actions, and one chapter focuses on electronic intelligence warfare, which Pyongyang allegedly uses to collect information on its enemies, deceive its enemies, and launch disruptive and destructive attacks, particularly ones aimed at communication and information systems and infrastructure.

North Korea’s electronic warfare includes both lethal and non-lethal methods. Non-lethal methods include electronic jamming and signals reconnaissance, while lethal methods can include physical destruction of targets supporting its enemy’s decision-making process.

In terms of computer warfare, the Army says North Korea primarily conducts these types of attacks because they represent a low-cost and low-risk method for targeting the enemy’s computers, they can be used to counter the enemy’s superior conventional military capabilities, and they can “upset the status quo with little fear of retaliation.”

“North Korean computer warfare activities may be conducted prior to or during a military action. For example, by damaging or destroying networks related to an enemy’s projected force deployments and troop movements, the [Korean People’s Army (KPA)] can effectively disrupt planning and misdirect movement, producing substantial confusion and delays. As modern armies increasingly rely on ‘just-in-time’ logistics support, targeting logistics-related computers and databases can produce delays in the arrival of important material such as ammunition, fuel, and spare parts during critical phases of a conflict,” the report reads.

The unit responsible for cyber warfare is called the Cyber Warfare Guidance Unit, and it’s often referred to as Bureau 121. The Army says Bureau 121 has more than 6,000 members, with many operating from countries such as China, Russia, India, Malaysia and Belarus.

It’s worth pointing out that South Korea’s defense ministry estimated in 2015 that North Korea had an elite cyber warfare unit with up to 6,000 members.

The Army says Bureau 121 has four main subordinate groups. One of them is Lazarus, which has an unknown number of members and which is believed to be responsible for many of the high-profile cyberattacks launched by North Korea over the past years.

Another group is called Andarial (Andariel), which has roughly 1,600 members and whose mission is to conduct reconnaissance operations in preparation of further attacks.

The Bluenoroff group has approximately 1,700 members and it focuses on financially-motivated campaigns.

The U.S. Treasury Department last year placed sanctions on Andarial, Lazarus, and Bluenoroff.

The fourth and final group is the Electronic Warfare Jamming Regiment, which focuses on jamming enemy communications.

Related: North Korean Threat Actors Acted as Hackers-for-Hire, Says U.S. Government

Related: Several New Mac Malware Families Attributed to North Korean Hackers

Related: Multi-Platform Malware Framework Linked to North Korean Hackers

Related: North Korean Hackers Continue to Target Cryptocurrency Exchanges

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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