On anniversary of Korea War, cyber fireworks fly

On the 63rd anniversary of the Korean War that divided the peninsula, hackers hit systems in both North and South Korea.

Lee Jin-man/AP
A man walks by a gate at Cyber Terror Response Center of National Police Agency in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, June 25. South Korea said multiple government and private sector websites were hacked on Tuesday's anniversary of the start of the Korean War, and Seoul issued a cyberattack alert warning officials and citizens to take security measures.

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As the Korean Peninsula awoke to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the start of the Korean War today, major government and media websites in both North and South Korea appeared to be under electronic attack.

Seoul said it was investigating cyber attacks on the websites for the presidential Blue House, prime minister’s office, and a handful of major media organizations. The South Korean intelligence service is also looking into whether or not the shutdown of some North Korean sites was due to being hacked, reports The Associated Press.

According to South Korea's Arirang News, a message referring to North Korean president appeared on screens in Seoul’s presidential office this morning: “Hurrahs to Kim Jong-un, the president of a unified Korea!”

It is unclear who is responsible for these attacks and if they are linked. The hacker group “Anonymous” has warned that it would target North Korea due to its strict controls over Internet access, specifically citing today’s date, reports The New York Times.

Less than 1 percent of North Koreans have access to the Internet.

There are reports of Twitter users claiming responsibility for the attacks in the South today, “demanding that the Seoul government stop censoring Internet content and that its intelligence agency apologize for a recent political scandal in which government intelligence agents were accused of engaging in an online campaign to attack opposition candidates ahead of the Dec. 19, presidential election,” reports the Times.

Earlier this year a much more serious breach of Internet security in South Korea took down an estimated 48,000 computers and servers at banks and media institutions. Some banks were hamstrung for up to five days. North Korea was accused of being behind the cyber attack, the seventh such accusation from the South since 2008.

“Cyber attacks are much easier weapons for North Korea as they cost far less than missiles or nuclear tests, but they can send more people into a real panic,” Park Choon Sik, a Seoul Women’s University professor of cyber security, told Bloomberg at the time.

This last attack, in March, came just weeks after the United Nations slapped North Korea with renewed sanctions for conducting nuclear tests. Tensions heightened on the peninsula as a military hotline connecting the two countries was cut off, threats were made to close an important shared industrial complex, and North Korea warned of severing the Korean War armistice. The rhetoric of war went so far as to implicate a potential nuclear attack on various US cities.

According to The Christian Science Monitor’s correspondent in Seoul:

For all its bombast, North Korea may actually be reluctant to enter into a military conflict with the South and its US allies because of the alliance’s superior military strength. But cyberattacks can be harmful, create a climate of fear, and avoid any direct consequences.   

This type of attack suits North Korea.

“Cyberwar is right up their street. It’s cheap and deniable,” says Aidan Foster Carter, a Korea expert at the University of Leeds.

South Korea may also have “more to lose” than North Korea if “the inter-Korean conflict were to move into cyberspace,” reports a separate AP story. There are more Internet connections than there are people in South Korea, according to 2012 OECD data.

“Many daily tasks [in South Korea] are performed online, from banking and the purchasing of movie or train tickets to social interactions. As such, South Koreans have a lot to lose from a malicious attack on the country’s IT infrastructure,” according to the Monitor. 

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Kim Il-sung Square in North Korea’s capital to commemorate the start of the three-year-long Korean War and protest the United States today, according to AP. Thousands gathered in South Korea to mark the date, with military drills taking place near the demilitarized zone between the two countries, as well. 

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