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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on March 11)

All News 07:17 March 11, 2016

Countering hacks by Pyongyang

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) has announced that North Korea hacked into the smartphones of dozens of senior South Korean government officials as well as the internal computer network of a national security company, where the identities of 20 million citizens were stored.

The spy agency held an emergency national cybersecurity meeting with 14 other government offices to come up with countermeasures. According to the NIS, North Korea sent malware messages to the phones of government officials between late February and early March to steal voice and text data from the phones.

The infection spread from the targeted phones and is estimated to have caused additional damage. One unidentified security company’s internal network came under attack, and data on the electronic identity authentication system the company supplies to many financial institutions was stolen, the NIS said.

The latest cyberattack could be a prelude to a large-scale raid like the one on March 20, 2013, when banks and broadcasters were paralyzed for days due to a chain of North Korean cyberattacks. Targeted government officials were mostly involved in foreign and security affairs, suggesting Pyongyang was trying to spy on Seoul’s moves following the North’s nuclear and long-range missile tests.

The government and society must be on alert for North Korean cyberthreats. The government said it will conduct security surveillance on transportation, telecommunications, financial and defense infrastructure. But the fact that senior officials did so little as to simply download data to be infected by malware suggests that the public sector is not thoroughly vigilant enough against cyberthreats. Despite numerous hacking cases, no significant improvements have been made on that front.

North Korea has been building an asymmetrical strategy, developing non-conventional nuclear weapons and a cyber attack force. The South Korean government must establish an immediate and long-term outline to counter new threats from North Korea. We cannot afford to make any more mistakes when it comes to threats and potential attacks by North Korea.

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