The move comes as retaliation for the sudden escalation in North Korean warmongering rhetoric since the weekend — notably official announcements of a "state of war" with South Korea and warnings about final "approval" for nuclear strikes on the US.
On the surface of it, using the Internet to attack and humiliate a belligerent despot like Kim Jong-un seems noble, but on closer inspection it seems pointless and possibly dangerous.
First of all, they haven't accomplished much so far.
These attacks do make Kim Jong-un's regime look silly to the outside world, but given that he looks pretty ridiculous already, that's an extremely minor victory. Internally, most North Koreans will never know about these attacks as they cannot access the Internet.
Anonymous claims to have gained access to North Korea's real online network — the walled-off internal intranet and mail servers known as "Kwangmyong" — but these claims seem unlikely.
As Caitlin Dewey points out at the Washington Post, "the network is insulated from the outside world and not accessible outside the country. You can’t get to it from the Internet because it’s not on the Internet."
Charlies Custer of Tech In Asia sees it the same way: "Accessing Kwangmyong is not theoretically impossible ... [but] without any proof of such access, Anonymous' claim seems dubious at best."
As for what the attackers hope to accomplish, their demands are ridiculous.
Some of these include:
- N.K. government to stop making nukes and nuke-threats.
- Kim Jong-un to resign.
- It's time to install a free direct democracy in North Korea.
- Uncensored internet access for all the citizens!
The same message speaks to both North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ("First we gonna wipe your data, then we gonna wipe your badass dictatorship 'government.'") and the people of North Korea ("To the citizens of North Korea we suggest to rise up and bring these motherfuckers of a oppressive government down!").
Unfortunately, very few North Korean citizens will ever even read the message, given that they cannot access the Internet. Even if they did, rising up to "bring these motherfuckers of a oppressive government down" is harder said than done.
Kim Jong-un may well read the message (there are some signs that the Pyongyang elite checks the Internet quite a bit), but it seems extremely unlikely he will be so scared of an attack on his country's Flickr page that he will "resign." In fact, it only seems more likely to ramp up his rhetoric.
The only people cyber attacks will hurt are lower-ranking officials.
While the attacks don't appear to be devastating to North Korea, they are embarrassing. The North Korean elite will want answers, and will probably want people punished.
Here's how the North Korean watching website NK Tech puts it:
The hack and the poster will likely be deeply embarrassing for the people running Uriminzokkiri and could land them in serious trouble with the authorities in Pyongyang.
NK Tech points to reports after a 2011 attack that says that operators of Uriminzokkiri, based in the Chinese city of Shenyang, were "questioned" over their response to the hack. Given that Anonymous has published email addresses of those hacked, it seems fair to assume these people will face something similar.
These officials could well be terrible, freedom-hating people, but it's hard not to feel a tinge of sympathy for people who live in a brain-washing regime which reportedly executes people "by mortar round" for relatively minor infractions. Hopefully they won't face that punishment at least.
Ultimately, the one thing that's becoming more and more clear as the crisis escalates is that any peaceful solution will probably come from measured, sensible diplomatic efforts.
Hacking North Korean networks and posting images of Kim Jong-un as a pig with a Mickey Mouse tattoo isn't diplomatic at all — it's a deliberately offensive act, at best pointless and at worst flat-out dangerous.
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