South Korea accuses North of hacking official emails

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According to prosecutors in Seoul, a significant number of South Korean government officials had their email accounts hacked by North Korea last year.

An article in Asahi Shimbun reports that investigations into the cyber-attack found that between January and June 2015, a “North Korean operated group” stole the email passwords of 56 people. This included officials in South Korea’s Defence, Foreign and Unification ministries. 

The story was first reported by Yonhap news agency.

In order to obtain email passwords, Yonhap informs us that in January North Korean hackers used a free web-hosting server to create 27 phishing sites, which pretended to be portal sites run by the South Korean Foreign Ministry, universities or companies related to defence, for example.

As yet it is unknown whether any confidential information was leaked, but an investigation is underway.

This is by no means the first time that Pyongyang has been accused of involvement in cyber-attacks. 

Just a few days previously South Korean police accused the regime of stealing personal data of over 10 million customers of South Korea’s online shopping mall Interpark, Asahi Shimbun reported.

Interpark only became aware that their customer data bank had been hacked on the 11th July, when the company was blackmailed to the sum of 3 billion won ($2.6 million or €2.3 million) in return for not publicising this private information. 

The National Police Agency of South Korea asserts that North Korea’s main spy agency, The Reconnaissance General Bureau, is behind the latest attack. They said that the same codes and internet protocol addresses had previously been used in cyber-attacks carried out by Pyongyang.

According to the Japan Times, Seoul believes that military institutions, banks, various state agencies, TV broadcasters, media websites and a nuclear power plant have also been targeted by North Korean hackers in recent years. 

The South Korean Police Agency believes that the North Korean regime is seeking means of obtaining foreign currency. 

According to the South’s spy agency, Pyongyang has an army of over 1,000 hackers intent on targeting Seoul’s top institutions and officials.

Meanwhile accusations of North Korean involvement in cyber-attacks have also come from beyond the Korean Peninsula

Last year, for example, Pyongyang was accused by the FBI of being behind a major cyber-attack on Sony Pictures. This attack happened to occur as the company was preparing to release The Interview, a comedy film featuring a plot to kill the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

In November of last year, the Sony system was hacked and embarrassing emails and personal information subsequently published. Later, a group calling themselves “Guardians of Peace” threatened cinemas showing the film with attacks in the vein of 9/11. 

According to BBC News, while the North Korean leadership praised the cyber-attack calling it a “righteous deed,” they also called claims of their involvement absurd and denied any responsibility.

Even before this incident, the US government had sanctions in place over North Korea’s nuclear programme. BBC News reported that in response to the attack on Sony, Washington added further sanctions.

This is thought to be the first time the US has punished another country for a cyber-attack on a US company. 

This year, meanwhile, there has been increased tension in the region following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test carried out in January and the series of ballistic missile tests which followed. 

These events provoked an escalation of sanctions imposed by the United Nations, as well as individually by countries including the United States, South Korea and Japan

Sources include: Asahi ShimbunBBC News and Japan Times

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