South Korean and US presidents gang up on North Korea's cyber-offensives

Less than two weeks into his new gig, Yoon cozies up to Biden as China and DPRK loom

US president Biden and South Korea's new president Yoon Suk Yeol have pledged further co-operation in many technologies, including joint efforts to combat North Korea.

While the US agreed to deploy physical weapons and hold military drills if necessary to defend the South against the North, the pair together vowed to "significantly expand cooperation to confront a range of cyber threats from the DPRK, including but not limited to, state-sponsored cyber-attacks."

This cooperation will include working groups attended by law enforcement and homeland security agencies from both nations.

North Korea stands accused of running many offensive operations online. Last month, the US government offered a reward of up to $5 million for information to disrupt North Korea's cryptocurrency theft, cyber-espionage, and other illicit state-backed activities. That bounty came one day after the FBI blamed Lazarus Group – a cybercrime gang that executes on behalf of North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau – for the theft of $620 million from video game Axie Infinity's Ronin Network.

And last week, the FBI warned companies North Korean cyberspies were posing as IT foreign workers with their sights on committing cybercrime.

South Korea and the US also pledged further co-operation to safeguard emerging technologies, and address supply chain issues.

"As global leaders in technology and innovation, the United States and the ROK (South Korea) are committed to fostering strong and resilient supply chains, deepening our cooperation across space and new digital frontiers, and safeguarding a trusted, values-driven digital and technological ecosystem, in line with our shared democratic values," reads a White House statement on the two presidents' weekend meeting.

Both nations also celebrated the accomplisments of their scientific and engineering commmunities.

Those brains, along with $25 billion in investments from homegrown "leading companies," will be leveraged in semiconductor development, high-capacity batteries and to bolster the supply chain, as well as research and development for AI, 6G, and quantum computing.

The United States has earmarked $2.5 billion and the ROK $1 billion for research, development, testing, and deployment of secure 5G and 6G networks, and both have said they are committed to working with open-RAN technology and standardization to strengthen supply chains.

Further to the subject of supply chains, the two leaders committed their countries to "early warning systems to detect and address potential supply chain disruptions" and are working together to address sourcing and processing of critical minerals. Supply chain dialogue task forces are also in the works.

On the national security front, the two nations agreed to enhance foreign investment screening and export control authorities related to critical technologies.

The White House said South Korea would endorse the Declaration for the Future of the Internet, thus taking a stand against "digital authoritarianism" – committing to defend human rights and foster the open "network of networks" that ensures global freedom of information. The document was signed late last month by over 60 countries. At the same time Russia acted to restrict internet access for its citizens during its illegal invasion of Ukraine, and China has taken actions like restricting the activities of some social media apps.

But the intention goes further than pointing fingers at other countries. South Korea and the US also said they'd clean up domestic abuse – for instance in areas of promoting gender equity and safety, by founding the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse.

South Korea in particular has had reportedly had a huge problem with digital sex crimes against women. Organizations like Human Rights Watch have called on the country's government to do more to protect women online.

The pledges don't stop there. There are commitments on space, health and climate change initiatives, a pilot program to ease travel between the two countries by reducing human interaction at the airport, and a magnanimous offer to supply North Korea with vaccines as the country experiences a COVID wave and widespread lockdowns.

The offer has as yet not generated a response from the North. However a major DPRK propaganda website has reportedly characterized Yoon as "pro-United States," and "confrontational." ®

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