Sep 11, 2019

North Korea hackers spy on nuclear, sanctions experts: report

Photo: Evgeny Agoshkov\TASS via Getty Images

North Korea-linked hackers have expanded their campaign to spy on experts researching nuclear deterrence, North Korea’s nuclear submarine program and North Korean economic sanctions, according to research from Prevailion.

The big picture: Countries often use espionage to prepare for upcoming actions like new sanctions, improve their bargaining position by better understanding their adversary's goals, or to see what other people know. This could be an example of any of those.

The North Korea-linked "Kimsuky" group has been previously tied to campaigns targeting South Korean entities and the academic sector. In this campaign, Kimsuky has sent phishing emails with Microsoft Word documents that can implant with malware. To a reader, the documents would appear to be:

  • A U.S. Treasury document granting a sanctions license to the Carnegie Corporation
  • A university affiliate's report on new North Korean ballistic missile submarines
  • Speaker notes from a recent nuclear deterrence conference

While researchers have already publicly discussed the last document being used to hack systems, the first 2 documents potentially show an escalation in the scope of the campaign.

  • The malware Kimsuky uses checks has been recently upgraded. The malware has added abilities to detect new antivirus programs, and now hides some of its coding in an obscure image file format that antivirus programs might not check.

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North Korea fires first submarine-launched missile since 2016, officials say

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un flanked by military officials. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea on Wednesday fired at least 1 suspected submarine-launched ballistic missile, Yonhap news agency reports, citing the South Korean military's Joint Chiefs of Staff. U.S. officials later confirmed the missile launch.

Why it matters: The detected launch near the city of Wonsan on the eastern side of the Korean Peninsula at 7:11am Wednesday local time came hours after North Korea said Pyongyang and Washington would restart working-level denuclearization negotiations Saturday, per the Wall Street Journal, which reports the State Department confirmed the meetings.

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U.S. rebukes North Korea's claim that nuclear talks broke down

Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

U.S. and North Korean officials disagreed with each other on whether denuclearization talks broke down on Saturday, Bloomberg reports.

The big picture: These talks were a hopeful precursor to another summit with Trump and Kim Jong-un, after February's meeting in Hanoi left the leaders empty-handed and back to square one at the negotiating table. This week, North Korea fired at least 1 suspected submarine-launched ballistic missile for the first time since 2016.

Go deeperArrowOct 5, 2019

North Korea calls U.S. position in denuclearization talks "sickening"

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

After denuclearization talks between North Korea and the United States ended in Stockholm on Saturday, a spokesperson for North Korea's foreign ministry said negotiators have "no intention to hold such sickening negotiations as what happened this time."

The big picture: The two countries disagreed on how to characterize Saturday's talks, with U.S. officials claiming they planned to return to Stockholm in 2 weeks to continue what they deemed a productive conversation. North Korean officials claimed the talks "broke down."

Go deeperArrowOct 6, 2019