Report: US cyberattack on North Korea was ineffective
© Getty Images

An American cyberattack on North Korea half a decade ago was fruitless overall, sources say.

The National Security Agency (NSA) led a mission in 2010 to damage North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Reuters reported on Friday.

ADVERTISEMENT

Operatives tried using a variant of the Stuxnet computer virus deployed against Iran that same year, the news service said, with developers crafting a version that would activate once it reached Korean-language settings on targeted machines.

Operatives hoped the virus would disable centrifuges for enriching uranium, much like it had when used against Iran, Reuters said, but the cyberattack stumbled when it encountered North Korea’s singular technology infrastructure.

North Korea’s isolation, it added, prevented the virus from infecting most of the country’s limited computing network. The communist country has one of the most insulated communications networks in the world.

Police govern computer ownership, the report said, and open Internet access is reserved for only a tiny minority of citizens approved by North Korea’s government.

Intelligence sources told Reuters on Friday that this arrangement created a different set of obstacles than the virus faced in the successful cyberattack on Iran, because Iranians have greater Internet freedom and access to global communications.

Reuters also said that the NSA declined comment on the 2010 operation.

It added that North Korea is only the second country the agency is known to have targeted with software that destroys equipment.

Reuters has repeatedly reported that Israel teamed with the U.S. during its 2010 deployment of Stuxnet against Iran. NSA leaker Edward Snowden confirmed the virus's origin in 2013.

The two nations have since drifted apart over how they should best deal with the threat of a nuclear Tehran.

President Obama has long argued diplomacy is the best means for preventing an Iran with atomic arms, pushing for a lasting nuclear deal between a coalition of Western powers and Iranian leadership.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has countered that Iran has not acted honestly on similar agreements in the past. He has charged that only economic sanctions and the threat of military action will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.