North Korea’s cyber capabilities represent a relatively new threat to global financial institutions and foreign governments, particularly the U.S and South Korean governments. Based primarily on publicly available sources, such as journalistic accounts and scholarly publications, this qualitative paper analyzes the ways in which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has bolstered his country’s asymmetric power and advanced his line of byungjin (dual development in the economy and military). Particularly by merging the cyber and maritime domains, North Korean operatives generate more revenue for the regime and helps keep the heavily sanctioned leadership in power.
Despite the increased international attention to North Korean hackers, few analysts have examined the important role of cyber in the DPRK’s internal political culture, specifically in advancing Kim Jong Un’s byungjin line. Cyber fits into the DPRK’s longstanding tradition of irregular warfare and guerilla-based armed struggle. Cyber also further advances Kim’s personal reputation in the DPRK as an economic innovator and military strategist. This paper pays particular attention to the role of the DPRK’s cyber operations in both ideological and maritime contexts. Recently, North Korean hackers have targeted South Korean shipbuilding industries and developed a blockchain scam, known as Marine Chain. North Korean cyber agents have increasingly paid attention to the nexus of cyber and maritime domains in their activities.