Over the last two weeks, watchers of North Korea's peculiar and strictly regulated part of the internet started noticing that the country appeared to be experiencing significant connectivity issues. Around several occasions, nearly most of its online sites — the infamously detached country has only a few dozen — intermittently went down, from the travel website for its Air Koryo airline to Naenara, the official portal for dictator Kim Jong-un's government.
At least one of the core routers that allow entry to the nation's networks seemed to to be crippled at one time, severing the Recluse Country's online connections to the entire planet.
Several North Korea observers believed that the government had recently conducted a string of missile launches, suggesting that a foreign government's hackers may have initiated a cyberattack towards the hostile nation to notify it to stop threatening the country.
However, US Cyber Command as well as any other government hacking entity bears no culpability for North Korea's continued connectivity issues. In actuality, this was the effort of one American guy in a T-shirt, pajamas, and slippers, hanging in his living area up all night, watching Alien films and snacking on spicy corn foods — sporadically strolling off to his home office to inspect on the status of the softwares he was running to destabilize a whole government's network.
An individual hacker known as P4x was hacked by North Korean spies a little more than a year ago. P4x was one of the victims of a cyberattack initiative that aimed Western security researchers with the evident goal of stealing their hacking tools and information about software flaws. He claims he was able to keep the hackers from stealing anything valuable from him. Nonetheless, he was deeply disturbed by government-supported cyberattacks targeting him personally, as well as the absence of any evident reaction from the US government.
So, after a year of simmering enmity, P4x has carried matters into his own hands. “It felt like the right thing to do here. If they don’t see we have teeth, it’s just going to keep coming,” says the hacker. “I want them to understand that if you come at us, it means some of your infrastructure is going down for a while.” he continued.
These comparatively straightforward hacking schemes had immediate consequences. According to Pingdom uptime records, mostly every North Korean website was unavailable at various moments during P4x's hacking. Junade Ali, a cybersecurity researcher who monitors the North Korean internet, says he first noticed what seemed to be strange, large-scale attacks on the state's internet two weeks ago and has since narrowly tracked the attacks without knowing who was behind them.
Ali claims to have witnessed key routers for the state go down at some point, removing not just entry to the country's websites but also email and every other web services. “As their routers fail, it would literally then be impossible for data to be routed into North Korea,” Ali says, describing the result as “effectively a total internet outage affecting the country.”
As unusual as it may be for a single anonymous hacker to induce such a large-scale internet shutdowns, it's unclear what significant effect the attacks had on the North Korean government. According to Martyn Williams, a researcher for the Stimson Center think tank's North Korea-focused 38 North Project, only a small percentage of North Koreans have access to internet-connected systems in the first place. The huge majority of citizens are relegated to the nation's inaccessible intranet.
According to Williams, the dozens of websites that P4x has recurrently taken down are primarily used for propaganda and other purposes directed to global viewing public.
P4x admits that his attacks are merely "tearing down government banners or defacing buildings." However, he claims that his hacking has thus far been limited to poking and prodding for security holes. He now plans to try hacking into North Korean networks in order to seize information and present it to experts, according to him. Simultaneously, he hopes to attract more hacker groups to his cause through the FUNK Project, a dark website he launched on Monday. "FU North Korea," in the hope of increasing collective firepower.
“This is a project to keep North Korea honest,” the FUNK Project site reads. “You can make a difference as one person. The goal is to perform proportional attacks and information-gathering in order to keep NK from hacking the Western world completely unchecked.”
According to P4x, his cyberespionage efforts are intended to send a statement not only to the North Korean government, but also to his own state. His cybersecurity threats on North Korean network systems, he claims, are part of an effort to appeal to what he perceives as a lack of government response to North Korea's attacks on US citizens. “If no one ’s going to help me, I’m going to help myself,” he says.