Welcome to Codebook, where it's all nation states all the time (see below).
Tips? Reply directly to this email.
Photo: Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool/Getty Images
For several years, North Korea has been conducting a spree of bank robberies online. A new report from FireEye makes clear that a recent attempt to "name and shame" a North Korean government-affiliated hacker did nothing to curtail the digital heists, and sanctions have only made Pyongyang more eager to steal money. But experts think the U.S. still has other levers it can pull.
Why it matters: While the Trump administration is trying to play nice with Kim Jong-un ("We fell in love," said Trump at a rally Saturday night), the continuing heist campaign has attempted to steal more than $1 billion total.
Background: After years of crippling sanctions, the Kim regime began using part of its cyber program to generate the cash North Korea needed to run. According to FireEye, North Korea began robbing banks in 2014, shortly after being sanctioned for its third nuclear test.
The FireEye report, released Wednesday, is an argument that North Korea's bank hackers are separate and distinct from the country's other hacking ventures.
Name and shame: In September, the Trump administration publicly named, sanctioned and announced plans to charge North Korean Park Jin Hyok for, among other things, helping develop the WannaCry malware.
The diplomatic play: Trump could make financial attacks a deal breaker in nuclear negotiations with North Korea, suggested Andrew Grotto, former senior director for cybersecurity policy to Presidents Obama and Trump and a current fellow at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation.
The legal moves: Grotto notes financial crimes require an external, international network of collaborators — from money launderers to people who identify soft targets to attack. If we can't arrest hackers in North Korea, we could arrest confederates elsewhere.
Returning fire: And, said Daniel, the United States could use cyber means to disrupt the networks.
Or all of the above: "It would likely be a complex mix of tactics," said Daniel.
US authorities charged seven Russian GRU agents for hacking a number of targets, including the World Anti-Doping Agency and other sports-related targets, and conducting an influence campaign based on those breaches.
Why it matters: Fancy Bear, hackers believed to have breached the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to tamper in the 2016 elections, is also believed to be the group that hacked the WADA. Putting two and two together, if these guys hacked WADA, maybe, just maybe, they are also involved with the group behind the 2016 election hacking.
The details: The international hacking campaign included attacks against laboratories in Switzerland and Brazil — document dumps under a website for “Fancy Bear's Hack Team.”
The big picture: Earlier in the day, Dutch authorities announced arresting and expelling four Russian agents caught attacking the lab running tests on the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and conducting attacks on British officials.
The arrests might recontextualize a Wednesday night announcement by the UK's National Cyber Security Center that Russia was indeed behind a number of attacks most believed they were already behind, including the WADA and DNC.
Vice President Mike Pence. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
In a speech Thursday at the Hudson Institute, Vice President Pence reiterated the administration’s accusation that China is interfering in the U.S. elections because it "wants a different American president."
The flashback: Last week Trump made similar claims at the UN and did little to back them up. Pence didn’t do much more.
The big picture: Pence said, “As a senior career member of our intelligence community recently told me, what the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country.”
Nothing in today’s speech or last week’s claims backs that up.
Like last week, Pence mentioned that tariffs were targeted at industries in influential states and that China placed a clearly identified advertisement in the Des Moines Register arguing that a trade war is not in the U.S.' best interest. Neither of these appear to be about the election; both appear to be about trade policy.
Pence also mentioned that China:
None of this is similar to the kind of covert campaign that Russia conducted in 2016. China’s actions, as stated so far, are out in the open and (save for the South China Sea) within international norms. Russia hacked a political party, released secret data and ran a secret influence campaign.
The only example Pence cited that looks even remotely like a cyber action against the United States elections was a DDoS attack against the Hudson Institute website he said was in response to a speaker China didn't like.
The bottom line: Unless the administration has information it isn’t releasing, this is still not evidence of election interference.
Fancy Bear is escalating espionage, particularly in Europe, according to a Symantec report released Thursday.
The big picture: Historically, most Fancy Bear hacking is to steal information. That's likely the goal here according to the report, which notes a more covert approach than the 2016 election hacking.
The targets identified by Symantec include several governments and military groups in Europe, one South American government, a "well-known" international organization and an Eastern European embassy.