North Korea's Cyber War on Australia

It’s the secretive unit blamed for a string of cyber-attacks across the world, including the attack that affected 300,000 computers in 150 countries in May. And the West has every reason to be worried about what North Korea’s cyber warfare cell, known as Unit 180, is up-to-next.

Unit 180, which forms part of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB) and is its main overseas intelligence agency, already has its eyes and ears on Australia, a cyber security expert has warned.

Dr Greg Austin, a Professor in the Australian Centre for Cyber Security at the University of New South Wales, said there was no doubt North Korea was already active in cyber space in Australia.Dr Austin said while the threat of a North Korean missile hitting this country remained a serious concern, the bigger danger is in cyber space.

“North Korea is almost certainly conducting cyber espionage against South Korean targets here,” he said.

“South Korean people, assets and aircraft in Australia are all potential targets of disabling cyber-attacks.”

He said North Korea remained far more likely to use a cyberattack against Australia and that the primary targets of a North Korean cyber-attack in Australia include South Korean leaders, institutions, civil aircraft, or even citizens living here.

Dr Austin, who delivered a seminar recently, Korea’s Cyber War Vortex in Canberra, said Unit 180 was just one number given to the North Korean spy agency’s cyber cell.

Dr Austin also said the reality was many people didn’t realise an active cyber-war was already underway with North Korea.
While Pyongyang knows it can’t get into a direct war with the West, it can attack it via a series of smaller wars.

Such attacks were also intensifying in destructiveness and frequency, Dr Austin said. According to him, North Korea has 6000 cyber warriors on home soil and other cells known as Units 110 and 1232 even have some active personal in northern China.

“Unit 121 has 600 of its 1800 cyber staff dedicated to disabling South Korean military command and control in the event of war,” he told the seminar recently.

Dr Austin said while there was no hard evidence to suggest North Korea was behind last week’s global attack, the reality was it wasn’t a sophisticated attack and it could have been carried out by as little as three people.

“And if North Korea was behind the global attacks (WannaCry) then this could also affect Australia as well,” Dr Austin said.

The US Department of Defence said in a report submitted to Congress last year that North Korea likely “views cyber as a cost-effective, asymmetric, deniable tool that it can employ with little risk from reprisal attacks, in part because its networks are largely separated from the internet”.

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