Paul Eckert (Reuters)
WASHINGTON – North Korea has added sophisticated cyber attack capabilities to its arsenal of threatening weapons and this year is rife with opportunities for military provocations from Pyongyang, senior U.S. defense officials said on Wednesday.
The officials told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee that North Korea’s large conventional military, nuclear weapons programs, ballistic missiles and newer capabilities in cyber warfare were all threats to the United States and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region.
Army General James Thurman, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, told the panel that a skilled team of hackers was the newest addition to North Korea’s arsenal of weapons that also includes chemical and biological weapons.
“Such attacks are ideal for North Korea, providing the regime a means to attack (South Korean) and U.S. interests without attribution, and have been increasingly employed against a variety of targets including military, governmental, educational and commercial institutions,” he said in prepared comments.
Thurman, who leads the 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, told the panel that the power transfer following the death in December of leader Kim Jong-il “appears to be proceeding without discernible internal challenges and with significant Chinese political and economic support.”
Kim’s untested son, Kim Jong-un, estimated to be 28 years old, has eased into power surrounded by allies of his father with so far “no indications the regime will depart significantly from Kim Jong-il’s policies,” said Thurman.
Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific Security Affairs, told the panel the potential for provocations from North Korea in 2012 was a “major concern” of the Pentagon.