[Perspective] Cyber partnership between UK and Korea is a game changer in intelligence war

By Dain Oh, The Readable
Dec. 1, 2023 10:38PM GMT+9

About a week ago, the United Kingdom and South Korea jointly announced that they had entered into the Strategic Cyber Partnership and subsequently issued a collective advisory from both nation’s intelligence agencies regarding supply chain attacks from North Korea. This was the first time that the U.K. government published a security recommendation with a nation outside the Five Eyes alliance.

Joining the Five Eyes, a multinational intelligence alliance comprised of the United States, the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—all English-speaking nations—has topped the agenda of South Korean national security officials since it has been recognized, due to real-life examples of incident response, that information sharing has become the key to defending the nation from cyberattack, which is an ever-growing and ever-evolving threat.

For example, the Korean Association of Cybersecurity Studies (KACS), a newly launched academic society that operates under the National Intelligence Service (NIS), hosted professors in international politics on multiple occasions this summer to learn how the Five Eyes operates and to discuss the latest changes in the way they function in order to determine how South Korea might prove valuable to the secret intelligence network. Furthermore, according to one expert who requested of The Readable that they remain anonymous due to security concerns, there are ongoing efforts on the part of national security experts to exchange information with the Five Eyes through “alternative routes.” The expert did not reveal what the other channels were, but they said they were seeing progress.

It is notable that the South Korean presidential office explicitly mentioned “Five Eyes” in a press release after the bilateral summit with the U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on November 22. “This agreement will serve as a bridge to unite South Korea with the Five Eyes nations in a network of mutually beneficial cooperation,” stated the office, adding that “This new relationship with the U.K. is expected to have a positive impact on future cooperation with other friendly countries, such as Australia.”

When South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol met with U.S. President Joe Biden last April to adopt the Strategic Cybersecurity Cooperation Framework, an agreement that expanded the two nations’ 70-year defense alliance to include cyberspace, the Five Eyes was also mentioned in a South Korean press release, but with a different nuance. “By reinforcing the exchange of cyber threat intelligence based on their robust alliance, the two nations—South Korea and the U.S.—have agreed to intensify their informational alliance to a level comparable to that of the Five Eyes,” President Yoon’s office said. Hence, the statement stressed the close relationship between the two nations, leaving as uncertain the inclusion of the Five Eyes in the relationship.

The cyber agreement that South Korea signed with the U.K. is the first milestone in enlarging the Five Eyes alliance to include the broader world. And it carries significant advantages not just for the two countries, but also for other nations in which respect for international law and the cyber norms presented by the United Nations are the standard. Of particular concern among these norms is placing the power of attribution in cyber warfare into the hands of the most targeted nations which overlap the Five Eyes. For, while the bilateral agreement is not solely about deterring North Korean hacking attacks, South Korea is the prime target of North Korea’s cyber army, and the U.K. is the second-most targeted country in the world for cyberattacks, after the U.S.

“As a method to hold moral superiority over malicious cyber actors, attribution lays the foundation for bonding nations in that they respond to threats collectively,” wrote Yoo In-tae, a professor of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Dankook University, in a research paper published by the KACS in September.

The mutual support clause of the latest agreement between South Korea and the U.K. indicates that this kind of cooperation will start taking place. “When either of the participants [the two nations] faces destructive, disruptive or otherwise destabilizing malicious cyber incidents, the participants intend to cooperate through official channels to share information and provide mutual support,” the two countries stated in their agreement.

The British Embassy in South Korea provided The Readable with an official comment as follows: “The partnership reflects the deepening of cooperation between the UK and South Korea, and of British engagement in the Indo-Pacific. The partnership acknowledges that we face shared threats and demonstrates commitment to work together to deter malicious activity and to respond to the opportunities and challenges that new technologies and cyberspace brings.”


The cover image of this article was designed by Areum Hwang (The source of the photo: South Korean presidential office. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, left, and King Charles III in the United Kingdom on November 21). This article was copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.

Dain Oh is a distinguished journalist based in South Korea, recognized for her exceptional contributions to the field. As the founder and editor-in-chief of The Readable, she has demonstrated her expertise in leading media outlets to success. Prior to establishing The Readable, Dain was a journalist for The Electronic Times, a prestigious IT newspaper in Korea. During her tenure, she extensively covered the cybersecurity industry, delivering groundbreaking reports. Her work included exclusive stories, such as the revelation of incident response information sharing by the National Intelligence Service. These accomplishments led to her receiving the Journalist of the Year Award in 2021 by the Korea Institute of Information Security and Cryptology, a well-deserved accolade bestowed upon her through a unanimous decision. Dain has been invited to speak at several global conferences, including the APEC Women in STEM Principles and Actions, which was funded by the U.S. State Department. Additionally, she is an active member of the Asian American Journalists Association, further exhibiting her commitment to journalism.