North Korea ‘hacked South Korean networks’

A MASSIVE cyber attack has caused computer networks at major South Korean banks and broadcasters to crash simultaneously, paralysing cash machines across the country and prompting speculation of North Korean involvement.

Screens went blank at 2pm local time yesterday, the state-run Korea Information Security Agency said. More than seven hours later, some systems were still out of action.

Police and South Korean officials could not immediately determine responsibility, and North Korea’s state media made no comment, but some experts suspected a cyber attack orchestrated by Pyongyang.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The network paralysis took place just days after North Korea accused South Korea and Washington of staging a cyber attack that shut down its websites for two days last week.

The South Korean shut-down did not affect government agencies or potential strategic targets such as power plants or transport systems, and there were no reports that bank customers’ records were compromised.

Shinhan Bank, a major South Korean lender, reported a two-hour system shut-down, including online banking and ATMs. Another big bank, Nonghyup, said its system eventually came back online. Jeju Bank said some of its branches also reported network shut-downs.

Broadcasters KBS and MBC said computers went down at 2pm, but that TV broadcasts were not affected. KBS employees said they watched helplessly as files stored on their computers began disappearing.

Last year, North Korea threatened to attack several news outlets, including KBC and MBC, over their reports critical of children’s festivals in the North.

“It’s got to be a hacking attack,” said Lim Jong-in, dean of Korea University’s graduate school of information security. “Such simultaneous shutdowns cannot be caused by technical glitches.”

An official at the Korea Communications Commission said investigators thought that malicious code was spread from company servers that send automatic updates of security software and virus patches.

The attack comes amid rising rhetoric and threats from Pyongyang over the UN sanctions. Washington also expanded sanctions against North Korea this month in an attempt to cripple its ability to develop its nuclear programme.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Last week, North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea warned South Korea’s “reptile media” that the North was prepared to conduct a “sophisticated strike” on Seoul.

North Korea has also claimed cyber attacks have been made against it by the US and South Korea, accusing them of “intensive and persistent virus attacks”.

Mr Lim said he believes hackers in China were the probable culprits in the outage in Pyongyang, but that North Korea was probably responsible for yesterday’s attack.

Kwon Seok-chul, chief executive of Seoul-based cyber security firm Cuvepia, said orchestrating the mass shutdown of the networks of major firms would have taken months of planning and co-ordination.

Mr Kwon, who analysed personal computers at one of the three broadcasters hit yesterday, said he hasn’t yet seen signs that the malware was distributed by North Korea, but added: “Hackers left indications in computer files that mean this could be the first of many attacks.”

Kim Jong-un oversees testing of North’s military hardware

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has supervised a drone attack on a simulated South Korean target, Pyongyang’s KCNA news agency said, and the armed forces hit a target mimicking a cruise missile.

A report on South Korea’s Yonhap news agency last year said that the North had obtained 1970s-era US target drones from Syria to develop into attack drones.

KCNA said yesterday: “The [drone] planes were assigned the flight route and time with the targets in South Korea in mind, Kim Jong-un said, adding with great satisfaction that they were proved to be able to mount [a] super-precision attack on any enemy targets.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It also said a rocket defence unit had successfully shot down a target that mimicked an enemy Tomahawk cruise missile.

The KCNA report said Mr Kim, 30, the third of his family to rule North Korea, would give orders to destroy military installations in any warzone, and US bases in the Pacific, if the North was attacked.

North Korea’s missiles have the capacity to hit bases in Japan and on the island of Guam.