U.S. to sanction firms aiding North cyberattacks

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U.S. to sanction firms aiding North cyberattacks

The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on Friday to bar the Pentagon from doing business with telecommunications firms that support North Korean cyberattacks.

Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger of North Carolina led the provision, which is to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2018 fiscal year, and aims to crack down on enablers of the regime, namely China.

This amendment directs the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to create a list of telecom firms that provided essential services or have been complicit in enabling North Korean cyberattacks and prohibits the U.S. Department of Defense from doing business with these firms.

It also provides U.S. President Donald Trump with a national security waiver to bypass this amendment on a case-by-case basis.

“My amendment is simple ? it prohibits telecommunications companies that provide material support for North Korean cyberattacks from contracting with our Defense Department,” said Pittenger during a House floor debate. “While my amendment is simple in nature, it strikes at the heart of what I believe to be the cornerstone of North Korea policy.”

He added, “For far too long, China has enabled the North Korean government to pursue nuclear development, global provocation, and egregious human rights violations. The Chinese government is simply not a good faith partner on the issue of North Korea.”

Pittenger set as example China’s largest government-affiliated telecommunications firm Huawei, which was subpoenaed by the U.S. Commerce Department in June 2016 for breaking export laws by conducting business with North Korea, among other countries.

Similarly, in March this year, Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE was fined nearly $1.9 billion for its connection with North Korea-related exports violations, he pointed out.

“My amendment is one of many steps that our Congress needs to take to demonstrate to China that we will no longer tolerate its alliance and partnership with North Korea,” he said.

Through this provision, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats would be required to make a list of the telecommunications contractors associated with North Korean cyberattacks within 30 days of the law’s enactment. North Korea was named as being behind cyberattacks on South Korean banks and media outlets in 2013.

U.S. authorities said North Korea was behind the cyberattack on Sony Pictures in 2014.

In May, international experts said that a malware strain called WannaCry, which holds users’ computers hostage until they pay money, appeared to have originated in North Korea.

Washington has been signaling to Beijing it may go ahead with unilateral secondary sanctions on Chinese entities if it does not to more to curb Pyongyang’s illicit activities.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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