SEOUL – Seoul prosecutors believe North Korea hacked into the email accounts of dozens of South Korean government officials this year — the latest in a series of suspected cyber-attacks by Pyongyang — the South’s Yonhap news agency reported Monday.
Investigations showed 56 people — including officials at the foreign, defence and unification ministries — had their email passwords stolen by a “North Korea-operated group” from January to June, Yonhap said, citing the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office.
The prosecutors’ office could not be reached for comment by AFP. Yonhap said the hackers set up 27 phishing sites using a free web-hosting server in January and posed as portal sites run by the foreign ministry, universities and defence-related companies to steal the passwords.
An investigation is still ongoing to see if any confidential information may have been leaked. The latest cyber attack comes just days after South Korean police said the North stole the personal data of over 10 million customers at South Korean online shopping mall Interpark.
Interpark was unaware about the attack until July 11, when it was blackmailed with threats to publicise the leaked data unless the company paid three billion won (US$2.6 million). On Thursday, the National Police Agency said the North’s main spy agency — the Reconnaissance General Bureau — was behind the attack which used the same codes and internet protocol addresses previously used in online attacks by North Korea.
The police said the digital breach was likely an attempt by the cash-strapped regime to obtain foreign currency. Tensions on the divided Korean peninsula have been running high since Pyongyang carried out its fourth nuclear test in January, followed by a series of ballistic missile tests.
The provocations have put North Korea under the toughest sanctions yet from the United Nations as well as mounting individual sanctions by countries like the US, South Korea and Japan.
Seoul has in recent years blamed the North’s hackers for a series of cyber-attacks on military institutions, banks, state agencies, TV broadcasters, media websites and a nuclear power plant.
The North operates an army of more than 1,000 hackers who stage hacking or cyberattacks targeting Seoul’s major institutions or key officials, according to the South’s spy agency.