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S. Korea to chair first UN Security Council meeting with focus on cyber threats

April 4, 2024 - 18:41 By Ji Da-gyum
Members of the United Nations Security Council meet on the day of a vote on a Gaza resolution that demanded an immediate cease-fire for the month of Ramadan leading to a permanent cease-fire and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, at UN headquarters in New York on March 25. (Reuters)

South Korea is poised to chair a UN Security Council meeting on cybersecurity on Thursday to shed light on the repercussions of cyber threats and malicious cyber activities, including North Korea's sanctions-busting maneuvers in cyberspace, on international peace and security.

The chairing of South Korea's first Arria-formula meeting — an informal gathering convened by a Security Council member or members — represents a significant milestone for Korea since assuming its position as a non-permanent member of the Security Council in January.

Although cybersecurity is not officially on the Security Council's agenda, the members have convened Arria-formula meetings, separate from formal sessions, to discuss the critical issue and its implications for international peace and security. The 15-member Security Council's primary responsibility is to maintain international peace and security.

South Korea is organizing the Arria-formula meeting titled "Evolving Cyber Threat Landscape and Its Implications for the Maintenance of International Peace and Security," with the United States and Japan serving as co-hosts.

The Arria-formula meeting will address the evolving cyber threat landscape, including topics such as ransomware and cryptocurrency theft, as outlined in a concept note for the meeting provided by the missions of South Korea, the US and Japan to the UN on Wednesday.

Other topics for discussion include the proliferation of malicious actors in cyberspace and the necessity for international cooperation to confront the growing complexity of cyber threats.

Cybersecurity is one of the key thematic issues South Korea seeks to highlight at the Security Council as a member, alongside peacekeeping and peacebuilding; women, peace and security; and climate and security.

Seoul's focus on cybersecurity is particularly pertinent given that the UN reports on North Korea's sanctions evasions in March said 40 percent of the weapons of mass destruction programs in North Korea are funded by illicit cyber means.

The goal of the meeting is to "promote better understanding of the impact of various malicious cyber activities, that were characterized as cybercrime, on international peace and security, including WMD non-proliferation, which includes actions characterized as cybercrime and other existing disarmament architecture, and Security Council-mandated sanctions," according to the note.

The concept note of the meeting also identifies North Korea’s cybercrimes aimed at circumventing UN Security Council resolutions as a key agenda item for discussion.

The concept note notably quoted a UN report stating that "one member state's illicit gains from malicious cyber activity account for approximately half of its foreign currency revenue, and about 40 percent of its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programs are known to be funded by illicit cyber means," without explicitly naming North Korea.

"Nation states and non-state actors sanctioned by the UN Security Council are increasingly leveraging gains from cybercrimes as a vital tool to evade UN Security Council-mandated sanctions regimes, undermining the effectiveness of the collective work of the Security Council," the concept note read.

The meeting's other key goal is to "discuss and provide possible recommendations on enhancing the UN Security Council's pivotal role and comprehensive engagement in addressing the multifaceted nature of cyber threats."

South Korean Ambassador to the UN, Hwang Joon-kook, has previously highlighted the urgent need for addressing cyber issues at the UN Security Council, citing North Korea's illicit revenue generation in cyberspace as a primary concern.

"Cyber security is not yet officially on the Security Council's agenda. However, there is a broad consensus nowadays that cyberattacks pose a significant threat to peace and security for all countries at all levels," Hwang said during an event organized by the New York-headquartered Korea Society in March.

Hwang then stated that North Korea is currently generating approximately a billion dollars in revenue annually solely through cyber hacking of foreign banks and cryptocurrency exchanges to fund its WMD programs.

"Despite the lack of consensus in the Security Council on how to address emerging cyber security issues, the Republic of Korea aims to elevate its profile in the Council’s work," Hwang emphasized.