Russia Throws North Korea a Cyber Lifeline


With U.S. pressure mounting on China, North Korea's greatest ally and owner of what was previously its only point of access to the internet, Pyongyang may have reached out to Moscow for fear that Beijing would cave to Washington's interests, said Martyn Williams, who runs the North Korea Tech blog and authored the 38 North report.

North Korea has found a new internet service provider, and it may be giving the country's cyber capabilities a boost.

Russian state-owned company TransTeleCom has provided a new internet connection to Kim Jong Un's regime, according to North Korea monitoring project 38 North. Cybersecurity experts have also confirmed the new Russian link.

Doug Madory, who analyzes global internet connectivity at Dyn Research, said per North Korea monitoring project 38 North that the addition of "Russian transit would create new internet path out of the country, increasing its resilience and worldwide bandwidth capacity".

Up until now, all Byol's traffic passed through a single link provided by China Unicom.

TransTeleKom was not immediately available to speak when reached for comment by Newsweek, but a company spokesperson told The Financial Times Monday that the Russian firm "has historically had a backbone network interface with North Korea under an agreement with Korea Posts and Telecommunications Corp. struck in 2009".

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These connections are vital for coordinating the country's cyber attacks, said Mr Bryce Boland, chief technology officer for the Asia-Pacific region at FireEye, a cyber-security company.

However, it has more backup with Russia's help. Over the weekend, it was reported that the United States Cyber Command was carrying out denial of service attacks against state-sponsored hackers in North Korea.

It is believed by experts in cybersecurity that North Korea was behind numerous attacks of high-profile including the one on Sony Pictures as well as different banks. The link may have doubled the nation's bandwidth, providing North Korea with higher resilience against cyber attacks directed at the country and additional resources for attacks launched from within the nation's borders.

It now carries an Internet connection for North Korea to the rest of the world as well. Soon after the attacks began, Neel Mehta, a security researcher at Google, suggested that the WannaCry ransomware shared an identical code with Cantopee, a malware developed and used by the Lazarus Group, a proficient hacker group with clear links to North Korea.

TransTeleCom has become one of the largest telecommunications providers in Russian Federation by laying fiber optic cables alongside the massive stretches of railway owned by the parent company.

"It's a win-win for Russia", Boland said.