N. Korea contacts Italian firm for hacking software: S. Korean lawmaker

July 30, 2015
North Korean students work at computer terminals inside a computer lab at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, North Korea during a tour by Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt. North Korea is literally off the charts regarding Internet freedoms. There essentially aren’t any. But the country is increasingly online. Though it deliberately and meticulously keeps its people isolated and in the dark about the outside world, it knows it must enter the information age to survive in the global economy.(AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)

North Korean students work at computer terminals inside a computer lab at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)

SEOUL, July 30 (Yonhap) — An Italian cybersecurity firm testified that North Korea had contacted the company to purchase hacking software programs, a South Korean opposition lawmaker said Thursday.

South Korea’s top intelligence agency recently admitted to purchasing similar software from the Milan-based Hacking Team, triggering suspicions that it has carried out illegal surveillance of ordinary citizens.

“Hacking Team even testified to receiving a negotiation deal from North Korea,” said Lee Jong-kul, floor leader of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD).

Lee made the remark during a seminar organized by the NPAD and Seoul-based nonprofit organization Open Net Korea at the National Assembly in Seoul.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) maintains that it has used the programs to strengthen cyber warfare capabilities against North Korea.

The software programs use Remote Control System (RCS) technology, which allows hackers to manipulate and track smartphones and computers by installing spyware.

“If North Korea purchased (hacking software programs), security information of both North Korea and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) could possibly be mixed at Hacking Team,” Lee said.

Hacking Team has said that the company sold software to countries, including South Korea. The company said the sales were strictly within the law.

The NPAD demanded that special prosecutors launch an investigation into the agency.

The ruling Saenuri Party argues that the opposition’s demand only harms the country’s national security.

“The opposition should now stop the act of hurting the national security by raising groundless allegations,” Won Yoo-chul, the party’s floor leader, said during a meeting of the party’s senior legislators.

Meanwhile, several civic groups filed a complaint with the prosecution against Lee Byung-ho, the current head of the NIS, his three predecessors and other NIS officials as well as the head of Nanatech Ltd., a local tech company, over alleged monitoring of ordinary citizens.

Nanatech Ltd. is accused of purchasing the hacking software programs from the Italian hacking firm in 2012 on behalf of the NIS.

The civic groups said more than 2,700 people united to take legal action against the spy agency.

“The NIS appears to have also used the RCS against citizens in South Korea,” the civic groups said in the complaint.

Last week, the main opposition party filed a similar complaint with the prosecution over the alleged monitoring of ordinary citizens.

Lee, the NIS chief, has said that this agency has never carried out any illegal monitoring of ordinary citizens. Earlier this week, he offered to resign should those allegations prove to be true.