As a one-time student of the cold war, pondering the potential causes of a global nuclear war was something of a Sunday afternoon past-time. The historic classic is of course the Cuban missile crisis but equally important were the series of near misses based on the faulty reading of radar early-warning systems when flocks of birds flew over the Artic Circle, or overly aggressive NATO military exercises feeding Soviet anxieties. With the recent North Korean provocations, sadly this subject is back in vogue. In some ways, although there are no clear diplomatic solutions to the North Korean danger, it does play to traditional intellectual strengths the US has in the field of geo-political nuclear strategy - a relief from the messy world of non-state actors, insurgency and cyber-militias. However, there may be a new element in all of this that could act as the proverbial flock of geese: cyber-pranksters.
North Korea is famously a closed society, which hasn't registered or used its Internet domain designation (.kp). However, it does have a 'government' website operated by the Korean Friendship Association hosted in Spain. Over the past month the loose affiliation of hackers, pranksters and griefers operating under the 'Anonymous' theme have reportedly organized two Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)attacks against this site - knocking it offline for 90mins at a time. Would this be seen as western provocation by North Korea? Who knows, but it does raise the question of how uncontrolled or accidental cyber-warfare could have unintended consequences, a new factor in an old dynamic. Unlike nuclear technology the ability to conduct cyber-warfare is not the sole preserve of states. Individuals, or loosely affiliated groups of individuals operating on a trans-national basis can replicate some if not all of a nations capability. The image-boards, which are the home point for these 'Anonymous' cyber attacks operate collaborative wiki's to organize and co-ordinate their attacks -- this enables them to harness the power of the crowd. The targets vary substantially from YouTube to Club Penguin, therefore interest in overt political statements are more the exception than the norm. Clearly there is much more to say on the 'Anonymous' and 'Chan' phenomena but for now it is interesting to note this new factor in an all too familiar stand-off.