By Cory Bennett - 03/07/16 03:15 PM EST
South Korea has accused North Korea of trying to hack into government websites and smartphones amid rising tensions between the neighbors, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Pyongyang on Monday threatened to launch a preemptive nuclear strike on South Korea and the U.S. in response to joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises taking place this week.
North Korea has increasingly tied cyber campaigns to its blustery rhetoric and military drills.
In January, shortly after Pyongyang officials claimed to have conducted a successful hydrogen bomb test, South Korea deployed more cyber defense agents in anticipation of a possible digital assault.
Several weeks later, Seoul said it believed North Korea had launched a spate of cyberattacks on southern targets. Reportedly the digital assaults planted malware on a number of government networks.
North Korea is not considered a top global cyber power, but it has aggressively ramped up its digital arsenal in recent years.
The focus has translated into a number of offensive cyber successes, including 2014’s destructive hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
North Korea is also thought to be behind a series of attacks on South Korean banks and broadcasting companies in 2013, according to researchers.
"The North is developing its cyber capabilities in tandem with its other asymmetric threats, and has embedded these capabilities in party and military institutions," Victor Cha, the Korea chairman at the Center on Strategic and International Studies, told lawmakers during an October hearing on Capitol Hill.
U.S. lawmakers recently approved a bill that slaps sanctions on North Korea for its burgeoning cyber capabilities and resurgent nuclear program.
“This is the first time we’ve ever had mandatory sanctions on cyberattacks,” 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.), who backed the legislation, told The Hill last month. “It’s long overdue.”
“This will be a model for what we do as other bad actors try to attack the United States through cyber means,” added Gardner, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity.