Could North Korea be the biggest threat to global cyber security?


2017 was a year in which cyber technology and security dominated media headlines, and several high-profile cyber attacks illustrated the gravity of cyber as a global threat. The year concluded with US Homeland Security Advisor Thomas Bossert’s announcement on 18 December, in which the US officially blamed North Korea for the May 2017 WannaCry cyber attack. WannaCry was a ransomware campaign that infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries, including the US and the UK. The British National Health Service (NHS) was badly affected. At least 16 health service organisations across England and Scotland were infected by the ransomware which scrambled data on computers, forcing the cancelation of numerous medical appointments. WannaCry was one of the first incidents using a strain of ransomware that was also a worm, meaning that it was able to move independently between computers across the world.

The accusation against North Korea supports conclusions drawn by the UK National Cyber Security Centre in June 2017 and announced by the UK Home Office in October. The UK and the US believe that the Lazarus Group, a hacking entity associated with North Korea, were behind the WannaCry attack and suggested they are supported by the North Korean government. Australia, Canada and New Zealand all also agree with the assessment that North Korea was responsible. The allegations come at a time when US-North Korea tensions are elevated. The administration of President Donald Trump has identified North Korea as the biggest threat to the US, principally due to its nuclear development programme. The emphasis on North Korea as a threat to western cyber security is, according to the BBC, “almost certainly an attempt to put more pressure on North Korea in the crisis over its nuclear programme with the attempt to rally international support behind the notion that the country is a real danger.”

An “asymmetric advantage”

Claims of North Korean responsibility by the US and UK add to mounting accusations that the country has been targeting online exchanges for cryptocurrencies and building up their hacking capabilities. The Financial Times argues that North Korea has an “asymmetric advantage” due to its adversaries being much more reliant on technology than North Korea, making them more vulnerable to disruption following an attack. While the identification of cyber attack perpetrators cannot, for now, be guaranteed, what can be stated with certainty is that cyber security will remain a key threat to governments and businesses into 2018. 2017 saw cyber security take centre stage, with the investigation into Russian hacking in the 2016 US elections and a number of high profile attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya troubling countries and disrupting company operations.

NYA’s Cyber Risk Management services help you establish controls and processes around your systems that protect your assets, monitor and understand threats as they evolve, and build and test your resilience to incidents. In the event an incident or crisis occurs, our crisis response consultants provide you with practical advice, options and scenario planning based on tried and tested procedures. Our primary objective is always the successful resolution of the crisis, to put you back in control. For a discrete conversation about how we can help you, contact us today.


We can help you build your capability to respond effectively

Find out more