On Tuesday, several South Korean banks and television broadcasters were taken offline due to a “pretty massive” cyber attack. For the most part these attacks were just a nuisance, temporarily cutting off online access to bank accounts and freezing TV station computers, though not interfering with any broadcasts.
Most signs point to North Korea as the culprit, as tensions on the peninsula remain high following North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile tests and bellicose rhetoric. China may have also been involved, as the attacks originated there, though hackers often reroute their attacks to make them difficult to trace. As cyber capabilities become more widely available, the U.S. and its allies must be more prepared to face cyber attacks.
Indeed, this is not the first time that North Korea has been implicated in attacks on South Korea or the U.S. In 2011, North Korea was the likely aggressor in a disruptive 10-day attack on Korean government websites and U.S. military forces in Korea, aptly named “10 Days of Rain.” In 2009, North Korea is thought to have gotten its hands on U.S.–South Korean defense plans through an unsecured USB thumb drive. Together with other suspected hacks, it is clear that North Korea is more than willing to make good on its threats through the Internet.
And North Korea is not alone. Iran is another isolated state that has shown an interest in using cyber weapons against its enemies. Just ask Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, the world’s largest state-owned oil exporter, who had to replace 55,000 computers after an Iranian virus known as “Shamoon” spread like wildfire through its network. While not a very sophisticated virus, Shamoon just goes to show that an enemy can make up for skill with dedication and malicious intent.
Of course, nations like China and Russia have both the dedication and the cyber skills. Indeed, these bad actors have been busily stealing U.S. military and economic secrets for at least a decade. In China’s case, many of these attacks are state-led endeavors, while the Russians prefer to work indirectly with Russian criminal organizations. Regardless of the origin, the U.S. loses as much as $250 billion a year in lost intellectual property due to cyber espionage. This must change.
The U.S. should carefully consider these threats when preparing cybersecurity legislation. Thankfully, the House and Senate have held numerous hearings on cybersecurity in the past two weeks. Cyber threats from China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, or elsewhere are constantly changing and the U.S. must be prepared with flexible and dynamic solutions to cybersecurity. Regulations would only play into North Korea’s hand by hamstringing our businesses and innovators.
Instead of embracing slow-moving and costly regulations, the U.S. should embrace a solution that is as dynamic as the Internet itself. Sharing information on cyber threats and vulnerabilities is a good place to start and something Congress should consider as it moves forward with cybersecurity legislation.