North Korea's Internet suffers outages

North Korea's Internet suffers outages
© Getty Images

The State Department on Monday would not say if the United States was responsible for reported Internet outages in North Korea.

The U.S. is suspected of being behind the shortages, which occurred days after President Obama vowed a “proportional response” to Pyongyang’s hacking of Sony.


“As the president said, we are considering a range of options in response,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday after being asked about reports of North Korean outages. “We aren't going to discuss, you know, publicly operational details about the possible response options or comment on those kind of reports in anyway except to say that as we implement our responses, some will be seen, some may not be seen.”

Harf did call on North Korea to “exercise restraint” and “refrain from further threatening actions at this time.” And she said that if the regime there wanted to help, “they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damages this attack caused.”

Doug Madory, the director of Internet analysis at Dyn Research, told the New York Times that there had been issues with North Korea’s Internet access since late Friday, and it went fully offline Monday morning. 

“Their networks are under duress,” Madory said, adding data indicated they could be suffering from a denial of service attack, in whichattackers overwhelm a network with Internet traffic.

“I haven’t seen such a steady beat of routing instability and outages in [North Korea] before,” Madory told North Korea Tech, a blog that monitors the reclusive East Asian nation and was one of the first to report the outages.

 “Usually there are isolated blips, not continuous connectivity problems,’ Madory said.

According to Dyn, reports of unstable networks in North Korea skyrocketed at about 5:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

It's not clear if the attack was launched by the U.S. government, another international actor, an independent hacking collective or evidence of the North Korean government proactively taking down their own traffic.

“It could be the North Koreans kind of pulling into their shell to prevent an attack on themselves,” said Adam Segal, an Asia and technology expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, during a Monday conference call with reporters.

The North Koreans had a similar outage last year after Pyongyang was blamed for a series of cyberattacks on South Korean banks and media outlets. The regime blamed the incident on South Korea and the United States, but some believed the move was self-inflicted.

However, multiple security firms said Monday’s outages were consistent with what are called DDoS attacks, in which attackers overload a network with traffic, causing it to collapse.

However, multiple security firms said the outages were consistent with what are called DDoS attacks, in which attackers overload a network with traffic, causing it to collapse.

A DDoS attack is not a serious or crippling assault, more of a temporary inconvenience.

It’s a favorite tool for “hacktivists,” or hackers looking to get public attention for a political cause. The U.S. financial sector also experienced a glut of DDoS attacks from Iranian hackers throughout 2012.

Unlike the “wiper” attack that hit Sony, DDoS attacks do not permanently destroy any data on the networks they target.

If the U.S. is behind it, “this would be a proportional attack although not very sophisticated, and not have a very long-standing effect,” Segal said.

Obama on Friday said he would not necessarily detail his plans to respond to the cyber attack on Sony, saying he did not want to telegraph his intentions.

“We will respond,” the president said. “We will respond proportionally and we will respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.”

Earlier Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House was weighing additional financial sanctions against North Korea in retaliation for the attack. And Obama said over the weekend his administration was considering whether to place North Korea back on the State Department’s state sponsor of terrorists list.

Updated at 5:29 p.m.