'North Korea's cyberaggression has no parallel'

This photo taken on February 14, 2013 shows trainer Lee Seung-Jin a computer research consultant, teaching at an internet security training centre of the state-run Korea Information Technology Research Institute (KITRI) in Seoul.

The level of North Korea's cyberaggression towards South Korea has no parallel, a US security expert said, underscoring the need for the South to dedicate sufficient resources to enhancing its cybersecurity.

Martin Libicki, senior management scientist at the US think tank RAND Corporation, also rated Pyongyang's cyberwarfare capabilities as being at Iran's level, noting that its skills "might be clever, but not sophisticated."

"I think (North Korea's cyberaggression) even exceeds mutual Israeli-Iranian aggression. The attack on South Korean banks that wiped out desktop computers did not arise from the usual cybercrime motives ― taking money ― but from spite and vandalism," he said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

"The lesson is that cybersecurity cannot be understood out of its context. In South Korea, it's less how good cybersecurity is and more how good it is relative to the threat from the North."

In recent years, the communist state has launched a series of cyberattacks such as distributed denial-of-service attacks on computer systems of the South Korean government, banks and enterprises, prompting calls for improved cybersecurity.

Seeking to develop asymmetric military capabilities against more affluent, well-equipped South Korea and the US, the North has been nurturing and deploying cyberwarriors in and outside of the country.

Commenting that any deterrence against North Korea was a "difficult proposition" whether in cyberspace or on the ground, the scholar pointed out that Seoul could cooperate with China, the North's biggest patron.

"The best leverage that South Korea might offer would have to work through China ― convincing China that the risks of a North Korean collapse are tolerable compared to all the other risks that might exist from not tamping down on North Korea," he said, noting the importance of tackling fast-growing cyberthreats from Pyongyang.

"This argument has yet to be persuasive, but South Korea has yet to suffer greatly from North Korean cyberattacks ― where 'greatly' can be understood in comparison to the cost of a conventional war."

Libicki also stressed the importance of sufficient monetary investment in cybersecurity.

"Cybersecurity is largely a matter of dedicating sufficient resources to the job and managing networks with sufficient diligence," he said. "It will take study and money to determine which services are right for South Korea. But the bottom line is that money can buy help."