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(LEAD) Suspected malicious code emailed to reporters at unification ministry

All News 14:13 January 07, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS headline; CLARIFIES target info in first 2 paras; ADDS experts' comment paras 5-6)

SEOUL, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) -- An email suspected to be carrying malicious code has been sent to dozens of reporters, mostly ones covering South Korea's ministry in charge of relations with North Korea, prompting an investigation into the incident, an official said Monday.

The email titled "TF reference info" with a compressed file attached was sent to more than 70 reporters, mostly members of the unification ministry's press corps, earlier in the day. It was sent through a private email address from a person named "Yoon Hong-geun." The ministry suspects it contains malicious code designed for hacking.

"Since the start of this year, many hacking attempts and cyberattacks have been carried out by those disguising themselves as the government and the unification ministry," Baik Tae-hyun, the ministry's spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

"The latest incident has been handed over to relevant agencies (for further investigation)," he added.

A tech expert who analyzed the email said that it might have originated from North Korea, based the names of the files attached and how it fits into a pattern of attacks.

The expert voiced caution, saying that more time is needed to determine who carried out the attack, given that the code itself and the way it was designed to infiltrate a computer system is relatively uncommon.

The incident came days after the ministry said that an investigation is under way to determine who is behind a phishing hacking attempt using an email with an attached ministry-generated document assessing the North Korean leader's New Year's speech.

Last month, the ministry announced that the personal information of around 1,000 North Korean defectors, including names and addresses, had been compromised through a malicious code-infected computer at a state-run center helping their resettlement.

A ministry official earlier said that he cannot say whether the attack had come from North Korea as an investigation is still ongoing. The spokesman said that no damage related to the hacking incident has been reported.


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