By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Dec. 7, 2023 10:55PM GMT+9
North Korea has targeted South Korea with cyber-based disinformation attacks in the past in order to influence the nation’s elections, and this should raise serious concerns that the same will occur during next year’s parliamentary elections, according to a South Korean expert on Thursday.
On December 7, Kim Eun-young, an associate professor at the Department of Crime Investigation at the Catholic Kwandong University, broke down and explained North Korea’s influence operations during the sixth National Strategy Forum hosted by the Korean Association of Cybersecurity Studies (KACS).
Kim noted that North Korea’s campaign to spread disinformation has significantly impacted its primary target, South Korean voters. Citing a 2019 Oxford University study that analyzed the global disinformation landscape by examining 70 countries, the professor emphasized that the North Korean government has already carried out an extensive disinformation campaign against South Korea which influenced voters during the past election period.
Kim explained the reason for the attack’s effectiveness, stating that South Koreans are particularly susceptible to disinformation from the North because the two countries share the same language and historical background. “Historical background is well adapted to building the narrative of influence operations,” said the professor. “In 2014, Russia’s influence campaign was impactful during its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. There were a lot of citizens who are Russians and those who speak the Russian language and know about the country’s history, and they were especially open to being influenced by false or manipulated narratives.”
Kim added that North Korean disinformation, which is manipulated in favor of the North Korean government, is able to spread easily throughout South Korean society due to the existence of organizations and groups who are sympathetic to the North. Once North Korean state-owned media releases disinformation on behalf of the dictatorship, such sympathizers amplify and boost information through their own networks and channels of communication, which could eventually impact South Korean citizens by muddling truth and untruth. Kim stressed that the role of a sympathetic group in a targeted country is important to the success of a disinformation operation by mentioning the Chinese influence operations targeting the diasporas which are, in the words of the expert, widely understood as ineffective by foreign experts.
Kim further explained that North Korea’s influence operations are conducted through humans and are not large in scale compared to its geographic neighbors — Russia and China — as both depend on the latest technologies such as bots to conduct their activities. “Although it is not large in scale, the impact of the North’s campaigns is substantial,” said Kim. “We must keep their activities in mind as the parliamentary election is just around the corner. North Korea could probably resume their activities both discreetly and publicly.”
This article was copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.
Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and privacy by engaging with industry giants, foreign government officials and experts. Before joining The Readable, Kuksung reported on politics for one of South Korea’s top-five local newspapers, The Kyeongin Ilbo. Her journalistic skills and reportage earned her the coveted Journalists Association of Korea award in 2021 for her essay detailing exclusive stories about the misconduct of a former government official. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in French from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, a testament to her linguistic capabilities.