There have recently been 300,000 serious cyber attacks around the world, and former United States National Security Agency (NSA) Inspector General Joel Brenner, 69, believes North Korea is behind some of the big ones.
“It could be other countries or criminal organizations, but as the code used in the attack matches that used in similar attacks in some places, it’s likely that it was North Korea,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Sankei Shinbun in May.
In 2016, the account of the Bank of Bangladesh at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was robbed of $81 million, in an attack that has now been linked to North Korea.
“North Korea is aiming to acquire foreign currencies,” the cybersecurity expert said. “North Korea is going crazy for foreign cash.”
The chaos created by the hacking of British medical institutions, meanwhile, could have been accidental, but it nevertheless served Kim Jong-Un’s purpose well “to attract attention.” Brenner said this is the way the leader in Pyongyang demonstrates his being “disruptive, infantile, and psychotic. They can’t stand to be ignored [by the international community].”
Given this, Brenner stressed the need for greater cooperation between Japan and the US. “The cyber-gap between the leading nation states and other actors is becoming narrower. The ability to attack our energy systems, financial systems, communication systems, transportation systems is now in the hands of a great many hostile actors. We must deal with these vulnerabilities, including latent possibilities.”
Here are excerpts from the interview:
It is said that North Korea directed the theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh Central Bank accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. What do you think about North Korea’s cyberattack capabilities?
A few years ago, I would have said that North Korea was fairly primitive in its capabilities in this regard. It has climbed a very steep learning curve very quickly. Frighteningly quickly. I don’t know to what extent it has accomplished that feat by buying expertise from other actors, but it has certainly become very much more capable. And that is terribly worrisome. North Korea is now very much more capable than they were a few years ago.
They are intent now on stealing what they cannot earn. The attack on the Bangladesh Central Bank was a fairly sophisticated attack. But this is how they’re earning foreign currency. Because they don’t make anything anyone wants to buy, they can’t earn the foreign currency, they have to steal it. They used to do this by counterfeiting American $100 bills, but now they’re doing it this way. We’re going to see more attacks like this from the North Koreans.
We saw a worldwide server attack in May which has already been attributed to North Korea. What do you think about it?
It’s going to be a while before anyone says it was definitely North Korea, but it looks that way. This attack was designed to raise money. Although it affected many machines on many continents, in the end it was a complete failure.
If you ask me if they’re intending to do things other than money, my answer is yes: they can’t stand to be ignored. The young man who runs that country is psychotic. His way of being is disruptive, infantile, and psychotic. That is not a strategy. He wants attention, the same way that a three-year-old wants attention.
What about the cyberattacks and election meddling from Russia and China?
The Chinese think that if they do not catch up with the United States technologically they have no power to resist us geopolitically or economically. So they will do anything they can to achieve that goal. That includes both penetrating American command systems and stealing technology from America and Japan. The Russians, too, use their intelligence services not only to steal military technology but any kind of technology. That’s what they must do to keep up economically.
Kyosuke Sumii is a staff writer for the Sankei Shimbun International News Department