US vows tighter cyber cooperation with South Korea

The U.S. and South Korea pledged Monday to strengthen cybersecurity coordination, as North Korea peppers its neighbor with a growing array of digital attacks.

Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting Seoul as part of a short swing through Asia to prepare for upcoming Washington visits from the top leaders in both China and South Korea.

{mosads}During the discussions in Seoul, the U.S. and South Korea committed to “deepening cooperation on a range of new frontiers that will help define the 21st century, including science and technology, space exploration, cyber issues,” Kerry said during a brief Monday press conference.

The talks were mainly focused on North Korea’s advancing nuclear program, demonstrated last week by the the reported test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. If true, the test would violate a United Nations sanction on the country.

But Pyongyang is also increasingly a cyber irritant to both the U.S. and South Korea.

North Korea was blamed for orchestrating a destructive cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment last fall that wiped the film studio’s computers in retaliation for the comedy “The Interview,” which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

South Korea has been the target of much more threatening cyber activity from the North.

Pyongyang was reportedly responsible for the recent intrusion into the network of a South Korean state-owned nuclear power company.

While the incident wasn’t damaging, it revealed the potential of North Korea to cause significant harm through cyberspace. Seoul officials believe the ultimate goal was to create a malfunction at plant reactors.

Pyongyang is also thought to be behind a series of low-level cyberattacks on South Korean banks and media companies over the past several years.

“Our experience over the course of the conflict is showing us that when it comes to North Korea, there may be no silver bullet, but with a robust deterrence, strong pressure and well-coordinated diplomacy, we stand ready and prepared,” South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told the press.

While nuclear issues dominated Monday’s talks, Kerry did focus a speech later that day on cybersecurity.

During his remarks, Kerry called North Korea’s digital behavior “provocative, destabilizing and repressive.”

The topic is certain to come up as well when South Korean President Park Geun-hye visits Washington next month.

The Obama administration is trying to pick up cyber allies worldwide as countries battle over international norms in cyberspace.

In recent months, the White House has unveiled wideranging cyber pacts with Japan and several Gulf states. An agreement with India could be on the horizon as well.

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