GOP senator: North Korean cyber threat growing

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Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerTen senators ask FCC to delay box plan Lawmakers unveil bills to speed up airport wait times Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return MORE (R-Colo.) is warning that North Korea's cyber program is getting a larger role in its military strategy, raising the threat from the rogue nation nearly a year after it launched a massive hack on Sony Pictures.

“While our nation’s attention is rightly focused on the Middle East, the North Korean threat has grown exponentially, while there seems to be a falling asleep, so to speak, at the switch when it comes to North Korea,” Gardner said during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subpanel on East Asia and international cybersecurity policy, which he chairs.

“Besides the conventional military threats, North Korean cyber capabilities are growing,” he added, citing a major cyber campaign against South Korean banks in 2013 and the now infamous Sony hack last year.

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The two incidents raised concerns about North Korea’s offensive cyber capabilities, which were not seen as sophisticated or threatening until recently.

Gardner referenced a study by the Center on Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that warned that North Korea is developing significant military and clandestine cyber capabilities.

Victor Cha, the Korea chair at CSIS, explained that “the North is developing its cyber capabilities in tandem with its other asymmetric threats, and has embedded these capabilities in party and military institutions.”

“This potentially means that cyber operations could become more than just criminal acts, but could be integrated in the future with a military strategy designed to disrupt U.S. systems,” Cha said.

The hearing came a day after Gardner — along with Sens. Marco RubioMarco RubioFla. Senate candidate bashes Rubio The Hill's 12:30 Report Rubio: 'Maybe' would run for Senate seat if 'good friend' wasn't MORE (R-Fla.) and Jim RischJim RischOvernight Finance: Path clears for Puerto Rico bill | GOP senator casts doubt on IRS impeachment | Senate approves .1B for Zika Senate passes broad spending bill with .1B in Zika funds Sen. Cory Gardner endorses Cruz MORE (R- Idaho) — released a bill that would force the White House to develop a concrete plan to thwart the East Asian regime's burgeoning cyberattack capabilities.

The measure would also codify White House sanctions against North Korea, levied in response to the destructive Sony cyberattack. The Obama administration accused Pyongyang of orchestrating the attack in retaliation for Sony’s comedy, “The Interview,” which depicted the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Cha lauded the bill, arguing “a more proactive policy ... is necessary” to stop the reclusive East Asian country from fully developing its cyber weapons. He pushed for a policy "that continues to apply or heighten sanctions on the regime.”