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[Editorial] NK`s Latest Provocation: Cyber Terrorism

Posted July. 09, 2009 07:39,   


Twenty-five Web sites in South Korea and the U.S., including those of the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul and the White House in Washington, were down or denied user access due to mass distributed denial-of-service attacks Tuesday night. DDoS is a simple hacking method in which hackers overload a Web site with massive volume of waste data. The global Internet fiasco on Jan. 12, 2003, that wrecked havoc around the world was also caused by DDoS attacks that began with a small worm virus.

Seoul issued a warning against cyber terrorism yesterday but began efforts to counter the threat belatedly. It is difficult for authorities to effectively deal with the attacks, however, since they are a new form of terrorism. A hacker usually sends a command to an infected PC via a control server (command server). This time, however, a command asking the PC to attack a certain site was contained in a maligned code buried in an infected PC without involving a command server.

The National Intelligence Service reported to the National Assembly that North Korea or pro-Pyongyang groups in South Korea could be behind the attacks. This accusation is highly probable. The Web sites attacked this time included those of 11 South Korean organizations including Cheong Wa Dae, the Defense Ministry, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office and the ruling Grand National Party as well as the country’s leading Web portal Naver and the homepage of Shinhan Bank. Also targeted were the Web sites of 14 U.S. organizations including the White House, the Homeland Security Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, the State Department and the U.S. Forces Korea. Tuesday’s hacking was not a simple misdemeanor committed by a hacker seeking to brag about his or her computer skills, but is apparently an intentional hostile attack waged by a country or organizations. Considering the recent strain in inter-Korean relations and the patterns of behaviors conducted by pro-North leftist groups, such an attack seems quite possible.

The North began preparing for cyber terrorism long ago. Pyongyang established a five-year military college under its Korean People’s Army Ministry in 1986 to train 100 professional hackers per year, and dispatched them as officers to military hacking units. The hackers even infiltrated a computer of a South Korean Army colonel and attacked several defense suppliers in the South.

DDoS is basically aimed at shutting down Web sites rather than stealing data. If hacking causes a leak of classified national information and freezes a national computer system, huge economic losses and serious security breaches could ensue. It is highly worrisome to even imagine a situation in which hackers infiltrate systems at nuclear power plants, airports and financial institutions, disrupt and shut down online services, and cause chaos.

Hacking and computer security have a relationship comparable to that of a spear and shield. For South Korea to preempt cyber terrorist attacks, it must check its computer security systems frequently and upgrade systems and programs. Additionally, Seoul must consider establishing an organization to comprehensively tackle cyber terrorism just like the cyber security adviser in the U.S.