North Korea is often seen to be one of the most isolated countries in the present world. Yet, in one matter, the country is hyper connected: cyber warfare. Crossing e-swords with the West, the country has launched a string of attacks on government as well as private sector infrastructure. Curiously, there is an India angle in this conflict: North Korea launches few cyber attacks from its own soil. Instead it uses foreign computers. In India’s cases, often hackers are physically stationed in the country, launching cyber attacks on behalf of North Korea, reported the New York Times on Sunday.

Building capacity

North Korea was once a joke when it came to anything computers. It owned few machines and, therefore, had no expertise. Kim Jong-il, the father of the current dictator, however, changed that in the early 1990s. Jong-il saw the potential of computers to be used for espionage and began training people to do the task. His son and successor, Kim Jong-un expanded the programme beyond focusing just on government targets. North Korea now attacks private organisations with aims ranging from theft to political propaganda. The most famous of these was a 2014 attack on Sony Pictures for producing a comedy film on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-Un. The hack was so successful that Sony had to cancel the release of the film.

On its part, the United States as well as South Korea have been using cyber warfare in order to try and hack the North’s nuclear as well as missile programme. However, the United States is stymied by the North’s outdated infrastructure and the fact that that most of its attacks actually originate from abroad – the largest base being India.

Hack in India

The New York Times reports cites a cyber security firm called Recorded Future to estimate that nearly a fifth of North Korea’s attacks originate from India. A report by the firm says:

“It is clear that North Korea has a broad physical and virtual presence in India. Characterised by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs as a relationship of ‘friendship, cooperation, and understanding’, the data we analysed supports the reports of increasingly close diplomatic and trade relationship between India and North Korea.

Patterns of activity suggest that North Korea may have students in at least seven universities around the country and may be working with several research institutes and government departments.”

The report, however, goes on to suggest that India might also be a victim, with Recorded Future detecting activity targeting the Indian Space Research Organisation’s National Remote Sensing Centre and the Indian National Metallurgical Laboratory. However, the report concluded that it “could not confirm malicious behavior” in this regards.

While India does maintain diplomatic ties with North Korea, as it grows closer to the United States, New Delhi has downgraded relations with Kim Jong-Un’s regime. The Modi government recently supported a United Nations move to ban all trade with North Korea.