North Korea hacker spy group 'Reaper' prepares to step up cyber attacks on US
The US and North Korea are planning sophisticated cyber attacks against each other despite a recent diplomatic détente during the Winter Olympics, security and intelligence officials have reported.
North Korea is stepping up its cyber capabilities to target international aerospace and defence industries through a shadowy hackers group called Reaper, a report revealed last night.
The group, also known as APT37, was identified by an American private security company which tracks cyber attackers around the world.
They reported North Korea is using malware to infiltrate computer networks and represents "an advanced persistent threat" that has dramatically increased the reach of its already formidable cyber operations.
It follows revelations over the past few days that the US is planning cyber attacks in an effort to bring to heel the regime of Kim Jong-un.
Washington's potential plans for a series of "bloody nose" strikes on targets in North Korea could focus on countering digital threats rather than conventional warfare.
It is thought North Korea may have an army of 6,000 hackers, hand-picked by Pyongyang's cyber warfare agency Bureau 121 to plunder international banks, conduct military espionage and attack critical infrastructure.
FireEye describes APT37 as an "additional tool" in Pyongyang's armoury that is "expanding in scope and sophistication". It has monitored APT37 since 2012.
Until 2017, the regime concentrated on South Korea and its government, military defence, industrial base and media sector.
However, last year it expanded to include Japan, Vietnam and the Middle East, plus a wider range of industries encompassing chemicals, electronics, manufacturing, aerospace and the health sector.
"North Korea is not alone in having developed these capabilities, but the country's disregard for international norms in cyber operations should be cause for concern," said Benjamin Read of FireEye.
The regime has been blamed for some of the world's most audacious cyber crimes, including last May's WannaCry ransomware attack, which affected 230,000 computers in 150 countries.
Financial experts believe North Korea is homing in on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to bolster its economy.
However, recent reports suggest Western powers may launch their own online assaults to cripple Pyongyang, a favoured move as it would cause huge disruption but avoid the loss of life.
The cyber attack plans come as North Korea reminded opponents it was ready for dialogue or war as the Winter Olympics drew to a close.