This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
South Korea’s spy agency announced late Wednesday that it has identified numerous instances where North Korean hacking groups targeted key shipbuilding firms in the South. This is seen as an attempt by the North to bolster its naval capabilities, potentially deepening the existing tensions between the two Koreas.
“We believe that North Korean hacking organizations’ intensive attacks on our shipbuilders are due to Kim Jong Un’s order to build medium and large warships,” said the National Intelligence Service, adding the hackers targeted IT maintenance PCs of shipbuilders and sent phishing emails to internal staff.
The NIS said that hacking attempts occurred in August and September. It did not say whether the hacking attempts were successful.
The agency warned that North Korea is most likely to persist in its hacking attempts on prominent shipbuilders, urging relevant industries to comply with security measures such as prohibiting the opening of any suspicious emails.
The warning came as North Korea’s leader paid a visit to a ship engine production site at North Pyongan Province last month, where he prioritized advancing the nation’s naval capabilities and shipbuilding sector.
Kim is recently focusing on advancing North Korea’s naval capability, unveiling what he called his first operational “tactical nuclear attack submarine” on the eve of North Korea’s 75th founding anniversary last month — a display of its escalating nuclear capability.
Submarine-launched ballistic missiles present a challenge to the U.S. and its allies’ defense systems due to their inherent stealth and unpredictability. Operating underwater complicates the existing radar detection system and makes it difficult to track North Korea’s military movements, disabling a preemptive strike.
Every North Korean attached to diplomatic missions abroad has been ordered to “donate” US$100 to a new fund that will go toward the construction of “cutting-edge” submarines and other warships, sources in China told Radio Free Asia.
North Korea turned to hacking as a means of advancing its technology capabilities, seeking to bridge the gap with advanced nations. It had attempted to steal information on COVID vaccines via hacking Pfizer, the NIS told South Korean lawmakers in 2021.
In terms of orders, South Korea is home to some of the world’s leading shipbuilders. According to the London-based Clarkson Research Service, the South received 44% of the total number of new orders in July.