Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk
WASHINGTON ― Here’s a target the deadliest, most accurate missile isn’t going to touch: the computers in North Korea that are responsible for wreaking havoc around the world.
It’s all very well to talk about “the military option” or even a “pre-emptive attack” on a North Korean nuclear and missile site. You can fantasize U.S. war planes, hefty B1 bombers, sleek stealth-like F22s and F35s, maybe a few F18s and F15s in the mix, staging day and night raids wiping out all the North Korean targets deemed capable of sending missiles tipped with nuclear warheads to targets in the U.S.
That would be difficult enough since a lot of these targets are hidden in caves and tunnels, but at least they’re there, somewhere, awaiting attack.
Think, however, how elusive are the cyberwarriors who’ve been plotting to mess up American banking systems, agency files, individual computers, even Federal Express. Nothing sacred, all targets are valid.
Where do you find the guilty parties? How do you prove who did what to whom, what computers were responsible, what computer whizzes have the sophistication to spread their evil viruses far and wide.
That’s the challenge facing defenders of the Internet on which everyone depends to do business, to communicate, to survive. The White House may wail and moan from here to doomsday about the “malicious” cyberattack known as “Wannacry,” but then what? How do you stop it?
So many experts in and out of the U.S. and other governments have concluded the North Koreans are responsible that you have to believe they’ve got the evidence. So where do you go from here with all the proof in the world?
Do you urge the U.N. Security Council to “condemn” the evil North Koreans? Or do you run off to Beijing begging the Chinese to say tut-tut to the naughty North Koreans? Do you plead with the Russians to crack down on their own cyberwarriors, who may be in cahoots with their friends in Pyongyang?
All these “options” are ridiculous, as everyone knows. If the North Koreans can eventually be persuaded to knock off the nuclear and missile tests, it’s not likely any sanctions, diplomatic pressure, or pleading will have the slightest effect on their schemes for screwing up their enemies by hitting the keys on their computers.
The success of the North Koreans in cyberattacking targets in the U.S., South Korea and elsewhere is all the more remarkable considering that most people up there have almost no experience on computers.
Only a privileged few have access to the internet. Those who do are either in the elite upper crust surrounding top leader Kim Jong-Un or handpicked and carefully vetted for the brilliance they have shown at Kim Il Sung University as computer whizzes and their total loyalty to the regime.
You have to credit the North Koreans with having figured out how to invade the computer files of some of the world’s biggest companies and then having the gall to demand “ransom” to restore files they have shut down or hopelessly compromised. What a way to make money for a rogue regime!
The North Koreans, of course, officially deny the charges that “Wannacry” is their creation, but maybe they should take a bow. Just as Kim Jong-Un boasts of the terror struck in the hearts of his enemies by his nukes and missiles, maybe he should publicly praise his cyberwarriors for messing up millions who depend on computers for survival.
No way, however, will the success of North Korea’s cyberattacks measure up to the North’s nuclear and missile program in terms of propaganda impact. The Americans aren’t going to offer to negotiate an end to the North’s cyberattacks. President Trump, when he promises to inflict “fire and fury” on the North, is not talking about cyberwarfare.
Think, however, how successful North Korea could be as an economic power if the same creative minds, the same cyber experts, were to dedicate their undoubted skills to building factories capable of spinning out the highest-tech products and to bringing the wonders of the computer age to all North Koreans.
That’s not going to happen, though. North Korea’s 25 million people, their minds broadened by access to the internet, brimming with questions about the system in which they live, would pose a challenge that Kim Jong-Un might not be able to withstand.
Better to keep most of the people in darkness and ignorance, according to this strategy, leaving a privileged few to exploit the resources of the computer age. Like nuclear warheads, cyberwarfare provides “defense” for an isolated regime in a world of enemies.
Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in Asia for decades.