Cyberwarfare Has Already Become a Reality

Weapons are the product of technology. Technological innovation begets weapon innovation. We draw the ecosystem of war, weapons and Korean defense from a futuristic perspective, in which technology determines the war.

Cyberweapons emerged as a key issue at the first U.S.-Russia summit held since President Joe Biden took office. New York Times reporter David E. Sanger has said, “Once, superpower summits were about nukes. Now, it’s cyberweapons.” Of course, nuclear weapons are still on the agenda, but President Biden has made cyberattacks a more urgent issue. Cyberthreats have become critical to the point that they are now the central topic of discussion in superpower summits.

The United States is in a very sensitive situation due to recent cyberattacks by Russian government agencies and hackers operating in Russia against major U.S. infrastructure and software companies. For instance, there were large-scale hacking incidents against SolarWinds, a provider of network monitoring solutions; an oil pipeline company called Colonial Pipeline; a meat processing company called JBS SA; and Kaseya Ltd., a remote monitoring and management software provider. Recent attacks by hackers believed to be behind North Korea’s attacks on Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co., Ltd., and Korea Aerospace Industries, Ltd. are also raising awareness of cyberthreats.

As technology advances, cyberattacks are also evolving. Attacks have become more sophisticated due to technological developments. This has made cyberattacks easier and cheaper. As a result, the subject of cyberattacks has expanded not only to the government, but also to the private sector. Moreover, the number and magnitude of the attacks have increased, and the targets have expanded. Traditionally, military-related institutions and facilities were the main targets, but attacks on national infrastructure have been rapidly increasing in recent years. The list of 16 critical infrastructure entities considered to be “off limits” to cyberattacks that President Biden presented to Vladimir Putin covers military and nonmilitary sectors.

Cyberattacks take many forms, including espionage, sabotage and extortion. Cyberextortion has occurred most frequently in recent years. It is a method of encrypting computer files with a ransomware attack and extorting compensation in return for decrypting the files. Compared to 2019, the number of ransomware attacks doubled in 2020. The sectors with the highest increase in ransomware attacks in 2020 were infrastructure (water, electricity, gas, sewage and transportation, etc.), mining and agriculture. North Korea continues to engage in cyberespionage and sabotage, mainly against South Korea. Extortion attempts have also been made to finance the sabotage.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London recently evaluated each country’s cyber capabilities. It was classified into three tiers, with the United States holding unrivaled capabilities. The second tier includes China, Russia, Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, followed by North Korea and Iran in the third tier. Although North Korea and Iran frequently launch cyberattacks, they were placed in the third tier. However, looking at first and second-tier countries, it cannot be said that North Korea’s cyber capabilities are weak. North Korea’s government-led cyber capabilities are both an advantage and a disadvantage, since the capabilities of the private sector are also important in the nation’s cyber capabilities.

It has been argued that cyberattacks are not serious enough to be called war, yet cyberwarfare has already begun. As cyberattacks intensify, attacks and defensive responses e are occurring in cyberspace. Consequently, the cyber arms race could become fiercer, and the cyberwarfare between cyber superpowers is likely to become a reality. In order to mitigate or eliminate growing cyberthreats, efforts are needed for laws, institutions and norms at the national and regional levels. Furthermore, it requires a cross-national approach, in which the government, business and the citizenry cooperate at the national level. Now is the time to prevent the occurrence of cyberwarfare and seek cooperative measures for cyber peace in a multitude of ways.

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