U.S. Cyber Signaling to North Korea

Interesting article in CFR about a DDOS attack that President Trump authorized United States Cyber Command to conduct against North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB).  In all likelihood, the DDOS attack against North Korea’s intelligence agency, coupled with a leak of its occurrence and a post-hoc claim of responsibility by the U.S. government, represented an attempt by the Trump administration to send a costly signal of resolve to Pyongyang……This may account for why a member of the Trump administration chose to leak information about a DDOS attack, rather than a more costly attack that would require the United States to maintain persistent access North Korean networks……..If a state is seeking to send a signal via cyber means, how can it ensure the signal is received by the adversary and properly attributed? It could couple a cyber signal with other instruments of power, especially private diplomatic channels or public statements. This may account for the Trump administration’s “leak”—it is possible that it was intentional to ensure that North Korea was able to attribute the DDOS attack, after the fact, to the United States. 

….given the covert nature of state cyber operations, there are almost certainly things the public doesn’t know, necessitating reasoned hypothesizing about this case. That said, the available evidence suggests that this was a poor attempt at cyber signaling. Even beyond the inherent difficulties associated with signaling in cyberspace, the difference between the President’s tweets and DDOS could only muddy the waters. This example only confirms that cyber is not an ideal signaling tool, and this particular signal may have done more harm than good.

 

HT: Lost in Cyber Translation? U.S. Cyber Signaling to North Korea