"North Korea will be able to test how far and to what extent it can damage the U.S. election system," Sung-Yoon Lee, the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation professor in Korean Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, predicted. "I fully expect North Korea to test its own capabilities to see what it can get away with by hacking into the U.S. election system."
"North Korea's cyber abilities are simply one of the best in the world," he noted. "It would be surprising if North Korea did not test its abilities during the election."
The North Korean Foreign Ministry recently warned the Trump administration that "the U.S. had better hold its tongue and mind its internal affairs first if it doesn't want to experience [a] horrible thing. It would be good not only for the U.S. interests but also for the easy holding of [the] upcoming presidential election."
"North Korea increases its psychological pressure, political pressure on its main adversary, the United States. So, the latest veiled, thinly veiled threat from the North Korean foreign ministry about meddling in the upcoming U.S. elections… is all part of the growing escalatory strategic playbook which will be punctuated by a more serious provocation, like an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] or even nuclear test," Yoon said.
The D.C.-based bipartisan group Issue One produced a report called "Don't Mess With US," saying foreign interference "puts our election at risk."
The report called foreign interference "a national emergency" and accused Congress of failing to do enough to protect the elections. Issue One has set up a website, DontMessWithUs.org, to study foreign threats.
"North Korea most of the time is bluffing. But, in this case of, 'we are going to mess with your elections,' they can use crude instruments in cyber warfare," warned former Tennessee Rep. Zach Wamp, a Republican who's currently an Issue One Reformers Caucus co-chair. "We've got to take it seriously."
He continued: "They can do it, you know, from a closet in North Korea because of technology. So, it's almost like the box cutters used in 9/11. It's crude technology. We don't know what they're up to, but they could really mess this up again in this election cycle. So, we've got to be very aware of this threat."
Both the federal and state governments have been beefing up their protections against hacking of the election system. Still, Wamp and Issue One have been calling on Congress to allocate more funds to better protect the election in upcoming legislation.
"It needs to have more money for the states to carry out safe and secure elections," he said. "The CARES Act provided $400 million to the states, but across 50 states, that's not much money. They need at least a billion and a half more dollars, the states do, just from the federal government."
North Korea has hacked the U.S. in the past. The Department of Homeland Security has reported the rogue nation attacked American infrastructures such as banks and financial institutions — and in 2014, cybercriminals backed by Kim Jong Un's regime were suspected of hacking into Sony Pictures in retaliation for the movie studio releasing the Seth Rogan anti-regime comedy "The Interview," which portrayed a fictional assassination of Kim.
But an attempt on America's election clearly would be far more serious.
"The thing to do is not to cave, not to allow North Korea to feel further emboldened, to interfere in the U.S. election system, or to blatantly violate U.N. Security Council resolutions," Sung-Yoon Lee advised.
"Becoming a major concern to the integrity of the U.S. election system is a rational consideration for North Korea. And it's unlikely that North Korea may pay any kind of real penalty in the wake of meddling in the U.S. election," he said. "Any response to a future North Korean cyberattack must be firm."
"I don't think they can influence the outcome of our election. They can just further separate us from each other and cast misinformation that divides us and causes us to lose confidence in the process," Wamp cautioned.
"We need resources, we need to all be focused on a safe, secure and open election. To me, that really is what separates the United States from the rest of the world, is the fact that we freely elect our leaders and then we peacefully transfer power, even in the middle of a crisis. We did it in the civil war and the great depression and we have got to do it again this year."
Fox News' Ben Evansky contributed to this report.