Can US Cyber Weapons Stop N. Korea’s Nuclear Missiles?

On July 4 this year, timed to coincide with America’s Independence Day, North Korea launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile. It was a gift, said leader Kim Jong Un, for the “American Bastards” on their national holiday. 

He encouraged the military to "frequently send big and small gift packages”, and this call was heeded, with the longest-range test launched a month later. It was capable, in theory, of reaching Los Angeles, Denver or Chicago.

President Donald Trump’s response so far has been to challenge China to do more to rein in its neighbour. Recently, he changed tack and promised to meet any more threats from the hermit kingdom with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. 

The problem? Outright nuclear war would be devastating for both sides. Then again, neither leader is known for backing down. So what’s the alternative?

North Korea’s missile tests are about a show of strength, and the ultimate show of strength is a long-range nuclear missile. But what the North reportedly lacks is the technological accuracy and the ability to shrink that nuclear power to fit into a warhead. These are things that will come with time.  But what if progress could be slowed, or even halted, using cyber warfare? According to a New York Times report published in March, the Obama administration spent years ramping up its cyber sabotage, with suggestions that it was responsible for an 88 per cent failure rate of mid-range missile tests in North Korea. 

So can the US simply flick a switch and shut down the North Korean nuclear programme from 11,000km away?

The short answer, is no but...
“What you can achieve through cyber means is a little unclear because so little of North Korea’s critical infrastructure is online,” says Tim Stevens, lecturer in global security at King’s College London. As a result of how North Korea is connected to the rest of the world, many of its military units are likely based outside of the country in China and Southeast Asia, Stevens says. 

It doesn’t matter if US intelligence shows that attacks are originating from within those countries, he adds. “What are you going to do? Wade in somewhere and arrest these people or get them arrested by the host country? That’s not going to happen. So it’s a good ploy on the part of North Korea.”

Wired

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