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South Korea believes that the North Korean regime is behind an act of cyber sabotage against a major bank in April and has profited from hacking into online gaming servers. The increasing cyber aggression should worry the West, as the North Korean regime is unpredictable and could also help other enemies of the U.S. carry out attacks of their own. Its hackers are only one order away from doing serious damage to the economy of one of its enemies.
The attack on Nonghyup Bank came through the infected laptop of a contractor. The hackers were able to use the laptop to disseminate viruses throughout the bank’s computer networks, and on April 12, half of its servers suddenly crashed. About 30 million people were unable to make online financial transactions or use the bank’s ATMs, and the bank lost important information. Investigators traced the attack back to servers used in previous North Korean attacks, including one belonging to a regime entity in China. The sabotage was eventually linked to the North Korean regime’s Reconnaissance General Bureau. The lead South Korean investigator declared, “This was an unprecedented act of cyberterror involving North Korea.”
North Korea has also used its cyber warfare capabilities for illicit fundraising. The South Koreans have arrested five citizens for working with a group of 30 North Korean hackers in China. They stole $6 million from online gambling sites over two years. The hackers used programs to inflate the number of points they accumulated without actually playing any games. About 55 percent of the intake went to the hackers, and some of the rest went to the regime’s slush fund, which also contributes to its nuclear weapons program. The Korea Computer Centre of Pyongyang is thought to have orchestrated the scam.
Cyber sabotage is tempting for North Korea because it’s cheap and the victims can’t retaliate in kind. Computer access is a rarity in the North, and cyber attacks are not as likely to prompt a violent reaction. The North has been regularly taking advantage of its enemies’ reliance upon the Internet. In March, the North Koreans hit nearly 30 South Korean websites with denial-of-service attacks, including those belonging to the Defense Ministry and Office of the President.
In May 2009, the regime ordered its Lab 110 to “destroy” South Korean communications systems. The next month, the North attacked South Korean and American websites, including those of the U.S. Secret Service and Treasury Department. A North Korean spy was also arrested in South Korea for trying to steal information about Seoul’s railway systems. In 2009, the North’s cyber warfare unit hacked into a South Korean military network and obtained data about critical infrastructure.
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