Cybersecurity emerges as top priority

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Cybersecurity emerges as top priority

Song Jong-seok

The author is a professor of cyber security at Yeungnam University College.

June 3 is the 100th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The war has resulted in nearly 10,000 casualties and has left the country in devastation. Here, the invisible power of cyber warfare is noteworthy.

Following the invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014, Russia launched cyber attacks. Even before the Russian army invaded Ukrainian territory, major government ministries of Ukraine, including the foreign and defense ministries, and large state-run banks suffered DDoS and malware attacks multiple times. It is estimated that the Russian forces could advance to the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv only in 30 hours after the start of the war with the help of its cyber warfare early on.

In the wake of the Russian attack, the Ukrainian government system was attacked followed by the leaks overnight of personal information of Ukrainian citizens, such as passport information. Russia has since initiated meticulous cyberattacks to disable Ukraine’s satellite and broadband networks.

Russia’s attack on the electricity and nuclear energy system helped disturb Ukraine’s military operation command and control. As a result, President Volodymyr Zelensky and the people had a tough time getting ready to fight back in the initial stages of the war.

Why do countries around the world invest in the cyber arms race today? That’s because cyberattacks can hit the virtual environment connected to real world and maximize the social disruption and psychological shock that can be achieved through physical warfare.
North Korea, in particular, is pressing ahead with a state-led cyberpower offensive. By connecting with Russia, China and Iran, the country has developed cyber strength that could threaten the entire world. In 2016, for instance, the North Korean General Bureau of Reconnaissance hacked the South Korean military intranet for the first time. After finding the connection point between the South Korean military intranet and the internet, North Korea created a sophisticated malware to infect 3,200 computers at once. As the attack was not detected by our military control system, a large amount of military secrets were stolen.

We must not overlook the fact that even today, North Korea is waiting for a decisive moment after establishing a covert access route by finding vulnerable points in our core infrastructure. In peacetime, North Korea makes a few jabs to test South Korea’s response readiness by hacking major defense agencies. But in wartime, it may destroy South Korea’s core infrastructure, including electricity infrastructure, with a powerful straight punch.

North Korea and China would have watched Russia’s cyber warfare closely and reassessed the value. Israel has recognized the importance of cybersecurity early on and reflected cyber warfare in the 5-year Gideon plan, investing three-years of budget at once. The United States constantly invests on the “modernization of core military capabilities,” which includes cyber warfare, out of the judgement that conventional weapons cannot win future wars.

Since cyberspace became a new battlefield for digital hegemony, cyber strength has become a key weapon for countries. The Yoon Suk-yeol administration must recognize cyber warfare as a core part of the country’s military strength in future wars.

If a nuclear war has been the biggest concern so far, we must pay attention to cyber warfare that can be implemented immediately in wartime or peacetime, as it has the destructive power comparable to natural disasters.

Through state-led innovative efforts, South Korea must convert cyber warfare skills into military capabilities before the enemy does so. Regional cyber training centers should be built to train cyber manpower who can work in the field, not to mention the construction of a national cyber defense framework like “cyberdome.”

Furthermore, AI cyber weapons that can automatically identify vulnerabilities in cybersecurity should be developed.

Since North Korea uses civilian computers and IoT devices as botnets to attack, measures to augment cyber defense in our civilian sector should be taken. The new government also must conduct a combined drill among the civilian, government and military sectors at the national level. Victory in war is not guaranteed.

We must be thoroughly prepared to win.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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