DoD

Why the US should increase cyber pressure against North Korea

A new report offers several recommendations, including cyber and influence campaigns, for maintaining and even ratcheting up pressure on the North Korean regime.

The report, released Dec. 13 by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explains that the Trump administration must do more to deter and impose costs on the regime of Kim Jong Un. The report is issued under the guise of coaxing more concessions from the hermit kingdom regarding its nuclear program.

The report calls for a more aggressive cyber approach, to include more offensive cyber action, as well as an increased information operations campaign aimed at three sets of internal targets: the regime elite, the second-tier leadership and the North Korean people.

On the cyber operational front, the report argues that Washington should engage in cyber operations that restrict North Korea’s adversarial cyber capabilities, such as dismantling networks used for hacking.

These offensive operations should intensify, the report argues, if the regime does not move toward denuclearization in good faith.

Washington should also pressure China and other countries to dismantle North Korean networks within their jurisdiction. Given the North’s limited internet connections within its borders, it is heavily reliant on satellite offices within other countries to host its hackers and conduct operations.

The report also argues for greater cooperation with South Korea in the form of a joint cyber task force and a cyber defense umbrella.

The task force will develop a combined strategy for operations, exchange intelligence and prepare for offensive and defensive operations. The defense umbrella would be a mutual defense treaty where a significant cyberattack on South Korea would trigger U.S.-South Korea collective response.

On the information and influence front, one of the report’s authors argues the United States must begin a robust campaign.

“It is time to employ an effective information and influence activities campaign against the three target audiences,” David Maxwell, senior fellow at FDD, said Dec. 13 at an event unveiling the report.

“Now’s the time to empower our information and influence strategies and practitioners to focus on what Kim Jong Un fears most … I would say it’s the Korean people in the North armed with information and, in particular, knowledge of the South.”

These messaging campaigns against elites, the report argues, should highlight that denuclearization offers the best hope of survival.

The U.S. military is working to re-establish and reinvigorate its information operations and information warfare capabilities it did away with over the last 20 years.

FDD’s report calls for the blending of cyber-enabled information warfare options that can potentially widen social fissures between the regime and top elites.

Despite how closed off the North is, the report notes that defector organizations have demonstrated that propaganda can penetrate its walls.

This can include supporting South Korea with psychological operations and exposing the North’s civilians to the outside world through DVDs and USB drives that carry information and popular culture items.

Even Western social media mediums may have an effect on the North Korean populace.

“Can you imagine the effect in North Korea if President Trump should start to tweet maybe once a month, maybe every month, to the North Korean people that we know about your oppression, we know about the corrupt regime … we know about the political camps. This is not going to last forever,” Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute, said at the same event.

“During the Reagan era, people in the Gulag heard about Reagan’s speeches. How long do you think it will take for tweets from President Trump to reach the oppressed Korean people?”

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