Geum Yi

S. Korea’s spy agency denies hacking its own citizens

July 14, 2015
Lee Byung-ho, chief of the National Intelligence Service, attends a closed-door briefing at the National Assembly on July 14, 2015. The NIS confirmed that it has purchased a hacking program from an Italian company but denied using it to monitor South Korean citizens. (Yonhap)

Lee Byung-ho, chief of the National Intelligence Service, attends a closed-door briefing at the National Assembly on July 14, 2015. The NIS confirmed that it has purchased a hacking program from an Italian company but denied using it to monitor South Korean citizens. (Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — South Korea’s top spy agency has purchased a hacking program from an Italian company but denied using it to monitor South Koreans, a ruling party lawmaker said Tuesday.

The National Intelligence Service told lawmakers that it bought RCS software to boost South Korea’s cyber warfare capabilities against North Korea, Lee Chul-woo, a lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party, told reporters after attending a closed-door briefing on the issue by the spy agency.

Lee said the spy agency bought RCS software for 20 people from Hacking Team, an Italian surveillance malware vendor, in January and July 2012, referring to Remote Control System technology.

The technology can be used to hack data by installing spyware, allowing hackers to manipulate and track smartphones and computers.

The NIS said it purchased the program to analyze technology for cyber warfare, noting North Korea has obtained the financial information of South Koreans by hacking into 25,000 phones in the South, Lee said.

South Korea was hit by a series of cyber attacks in recent years that were blamed on North Korea. Still, the North has denied its involvement.

The closed-door briefing came after the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks revealed “1 million searchable e-mails” through its platform that included those exchanged between Hacking Team and an unidentified South Korean entity, which was suspected of being the NIS at the time.

The NIS said it never used the software program against South Koreans and there was no need to do so, Lee said.

Still, some South Koreans have lingering doubts on the spy agency as it had previously been accused of various illegal acts such as the wiretapping of politicians, journalists and others in the past.

Also Tuesday, the NIS confirmed that Hyon Yong-chol, the former chief of North Korea’s People’s Armed Forces, had been executed with an anti-aircraft gun due to his disloyalty to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

There has been controversy over the authenticity of Hyon’s death as he appeared in TV documentary footage even after his alleged death.

It is a commonly observed practice to airbrush out purged officials in North Korea.

But North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered officials to stop editing out scenes of purged officials as they could give a clear signal of executions to the outside world, Shin Kyoung-min of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy told reporters after attending the closed-door briefing.

“Hyon Yong-chol was shot to death after being branded as an anti-revolution factor,” Shin said.