According to the Washington Examiner, cyber security researchers with Symantec and Kaspersky Lab believe that they have evidence that the recent ransomware attacks that have compromised computer systems around the world have North Korean involvement. If the assessment is accurate, a North Korean connected entity has committed an act of cyber war against much of the world. That prospect has to be taken into account when evaluating the missile and nuclear threat North Korea is posing against its neighbors and the United States.

The WannaCry Virus holds computer files as hostage

The WannaCry virus infects and computer system and then seizes control of its data. The user is presented with a message demanding that he or she pay up, typically $300 in Bitcoin, or after a particular time loses the files. The ransom later escalates to $600. The virus has infected 300,000 computer systems in 150 countries since it was first revealed.

People can protect their systems by keeping their operating systems current, as the virus attacks Microsoft Windows system and the company is sending out security patches. One should also be extremely cautious about clicking on links in emails and on web pages. Finally, one should always backup files frequently.

What is the Lazarus Group?

The Lazarus Group is a cybercrime organization that is suspected of having ties with the North Korean government. It is behind numerous attacks against South Korea throughout the 21st Century. Its most high profile operation was a hack against Sony Pictures that crippled that corporation’s computer systems for days and unveiled a wealth of confidential and, in some cases, embarrassing information.

What comes next?

If, as many cyber security specialists believe, the Lazarus Group is operating on behalf of the North Korean government, it represents a clear and present danger to the safety of a great portion of the computer systems on the planet. Cyberwar does not just involve holding up computer files for money. Systems for electrical utilities and hospital systems, for example, can be compromised at the cost of human lives.

If government systems are hacked, the ability to respond to a more conventional attack, say a missile launch against a neighboring country or the United States, could be significantly inhibited.

Clearly, any future conflict with North Korea is going to have a cyber component as well as a conventional and nuclear dimension as well. The United States especially is going to have to up its cyber security game, not only hardening defenses against attacks such as WannaCry but ferreting out the sources of such attacks and developing the ability to place the computer systems of the cyber criminals under attack for a change.