N. Korea successfully hacks scores of S. Korean officials: Spy agency

March 11, 2016

SEOUL (Yonhap) — North Korea successfully hacked the smartphones of scores of senior South Korean officials recently, a ruling party lawmaker said Friday, citing Seoul’s spy agency.

“(The North) sent malicious emails to (smartphones belonging to) 300 diplomats and military officials by impersonating the presidential office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Unification Ministry. Forty of them were successfully hacked,” Lee Cheol-woo of the ruling Saenuri Party said.

Lee made the comments to reporters after attending a closed-door parliamentary session of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in Seoul.

The NIS believes that North Korean hackers successfully infected the 40 phones between late February and early March, and eventually gained access to lists of phone calls made, along with the contents of text messages and phone conversations.

Lee further assumed that National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin and Defense Minister Han Min-koo were included on the list.

“The NIS did not identify of the officials (whose smartphones were hacked), but it is speculated that those people would be included,” Lee told Yonhap News Agency.

The North also opened a Facebook account posing as a North Korean female to approach dozens of former and incumbent South Korean government officials for espionage purpose, according to Lee.

The NIS believes that the North posted a beautiful picture of the female on the account to make a friend request to the Seoul officials in order to ask for various government data and policy briefing.

Rep. Joo Ho-young, who also attended the session, said that the North Korean cyberattacks against Seoul have doubled in the past month, citing the NIS briefing.

Joo also said the North had tried to hack into the control tower of South Korea’s rail system as well as the computer networks of major financial institutions.

These attempts, however, were interrupted by the NIS, the lawmaker said.

North Korea — which has thousands of cyberwarfare personnel — has a track record of waging cyberattacks on South Korea and the United States in recent years, though it has flatly denied any involvement.

The NIS said hundreds of thousands of cyberattacks or hacking attempts by the North are tallied daily and the agency fails to defend between one and two percent of them.

Amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula following Pyongyang’s nuclear test and long-range rocket launch earlier this year, calls have grown among ruling party lawmakers to pass an anti-cyberterrorism bill.

The bill, however, faces opposition due to concerns over possible breaches of privacy such as allowing the NIS too much power to collect personal data.

North Korea previously launched a cyberattack against South Korea in July 2009, two months after its second nuclear test. It also hacked South Korean media organizations in March 2013, a month after its third nuclear test.

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