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2017-11-03 17:03
By Choi Ha-young


 North Korea’s cyber warfare capability has become a worldwide concern. The North has been accused of being behind numerous cyberattacks on the websites of government agencies and financial institutions.


We tend to regard the North as the prime suspect whenever the systems of banks and public organizations are hacked here. In many cases, however, it is difficult to find evidence supporting the North’s direct involvement.

It is easy to blame North Korea for untraceable hacking incidents. What is embarrassing is that there has been little improvement in South Korea’s cybersecurity technology, and many of its online networks remain vulnerable to attack.

During a recent National Assembly audit, lawmakers raised the issue of Pyongyang’s cyberattacks on financial institutions and banks here, including the Bank of Korea.

A press release issued by Rep. Shim Jae-cheol of the Liberty Korea Party, Sept. 26, said the number of cyberattacks against the central bank has considerably increased ― from 44 last year to 116 by August this year.

The report said 327 of the 400 attacks were conducted outside the nation, branding North Korea as the prime suspect. However, those attempts carried out from foreign countries don’t necessarily mean they were done by Pyongyang.

The release didn’t clarify the exact number of attacks suspected of being carried out by North Korea. Instead, an unnamed government source was cited as saying “North Korea is the suspect in multiple cases.”

There was no convincing evidence of the North’s involvement in the cyberattacks, but a story was published on the front page of a newspaper based on the lawmaker’s claims.

Rep. Joo Ho-young of the Bareun Party also revealed on Oct. 9 that 1,808 cyberattacks against the country’s transportation system were detected over five years from 2012, and it’s showing a rising trend: 107 in 2012, 148 in 2013, 478 in 2014, 558 in 2015 and 517 in 2016.

Particularly, he said the main targets were the Korea Airports Corporation and Incheon International Airport, indicating North Korea was behind the attacks.

Many of the attacks on the firms originated from China and countries in the Middle East and Africa. However, it’s almost impossible to conclude that such attacks are actually staged by North Korea or not. 

Surely, the importance of the country’s cyber security cannot be stressed enough. Unlike in the past, the impact of the “North Korea factor” in politics to exaggerate the enemy state’s threats is not that influential anymore.

However, the characteristics of North Korean affairs make it difficult to fact-check such information. Journalists cannot double-check the statistics by reaching out to the North Korean authority, and citizens’ access to information about North Korea is limited. Further, reports about the hermit state are easy to attract readers’ interests.  

Making tentative judgments that North Korea is behind an increasing number of cyber crimes may mislead the public to underestimate other risk elements in cybersecurity.

According to cybersecurity experts, domestic hackers could use a virtual private network to conceal their origins. Otherwise, hackers can imitate the attack patterns that are primarily used by North Koreans. It’s impossible to rule out the possibility that foreign hackers or international terrorists are increasingly targeting South Korean authorities.

Judicious approaches are required before charging North Korea. The reality around us could be too complicated to blame the totalitarian regime.  

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