Did a peeved American hacker singlehandedly take down the internet in North Korea? That’s the story, according to a recent article from Wired.
In mid-January, the Hermit Kingdom began suffering a series of mysterious internet outages, the likes of which culminated on Jan. 26 with a near-total web blackout. At the time, it was widely speculated that the outages were the result of cyberattacks, though it wasn’t clear who might have been doing the hacking.
Well, Wired now reports that a pseudonymous hacker, known only as “P4X,” is taking the credit. The self-described cyber vigilante claims to have taken it upon himself to hack the communist dictatorship after he, himself, was targeted by some of the country’s hackers earlier this year.
In January, a report from Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) revealed an “ongoing” hacking campaign targeting security researchers involved in vulnerability research and development. The campaign, attributed to a “government-backed entity based in North Korea,” was an apparent effort to steal both research and tools.
P4X, who counts himself among the unlucky crowd targeted by the campaign, said that he was contacted by the FBI after getting hacked but ultimately found the government’s response unsatisfactory. He subsequently decided to take matters into his own hands. What did he do? Exploit vulnerabilities in the authoritarian nation’s systems to launch “denial-of-service” attacks on the servers and routers that support its networks. Those attacks supposedly helped to push all of North Korea’s websites off the internet for a period of approximately six hours last week.
You’d be forgiven for being slightly dubious of these claims but, according to data viewed by Wired, it seems to be legit. The outlet reports that screen recordings provided by the hacker, as well as analytics of NK’s web activity during the supposed attacks, seem to confirm the claims. The outlet reports:
Records from the uptime-measuring service Pingdom show that at several points during P4x’s hacking, almost every North Korean website was down. (Some of those that stayed up, like the news site Uriminzokkiri.com, are based outside the country.) Junade Ali, a cybersecurity researcher who monitors the North Korean internet, says he began to observe what appeared to be mysterious, mass-scale attacks on the country’s internet starting two weeks ago and has since closely tracked the attacks without having any idea who was carrying them out.
Granted, most North Koreans don’t actually have access to the internet, so a majority of the country likely didn’t notice this event at all. But P4X has asserted that this was all about sending a message to the North Korean government, not the poverty-stricken population that lives under it. “I definitely wanted to affect the people as little as possible and the government as much as possible,” he told Wired.
P4X has also apparently launched a site on the dark web, dubbed the FUNK Project, or the “FU North Korea” project, where he is looking to recruit other hacktivists to his cause. If you have the necessary skillset and the cajones to throw down against Kim Jong-un, he’s probably looking for your help.