South Korea Charges Alleged Hackers

South Korean government accuses two men of working with North Korean hackers to steal personal data relating to 140 million South Koreans.

Mathew J. Schwartz, Contributor

April 9, 2013

4 Min Read

Anonymous: 10 Things We Have Learned In 2013

Anonymous: 10 Things We Have Learned In 2013

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The South Korean government Saturday charged two men with working with North Korean hackers -- operating from China -- and stealing personal data associated with 140 million South Korean residents.

"The data were obtained by hacking into the websites of department stores, gas stations and online shopping malls as well as from illegal dealers," a spokesman for the Seoul Central Prosecutors' Office told South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo.

Prosecutors said that one of the defendants, whom they identified only by his surname, Choi, had in his possession email addresses and South Korean resident registration numbers, which are required by many websites in the country to create a new user account. Choi had allegedly categorized at least some of the stolen data based on its intended use.

"If this information was passed on to North Korea, the North has a significant amount of personal information about South Korean individuals," said the prosecutor, adding that it was likely that some of the information had also been sold to Chinese and Taiwanese fraudsters for conducting telephone scams.

[ Anonymous hits North Korean government sites. Read Anonymous Seizes North Korean Twitter, Flickr Feeds. ]

Prosecutors also accused Choi of working with a North Korean agent and known hacker since 2007, as well as working with hacking tools and spam email distribution software developed by North Korea. Prosecutors said at least 1,000 of the recovered records had been obtained in 2011 from a known North Korean agent.

According to prosecutors, Choi somehow enjoyed administrator-level access to about 68,000 different websites in South Korea. He allegedly used that access to post advertisements for adult-oriented websites. Choi is also accused of hacking into South Korean gambling websites and profiting from them.

The charges come amidst increasing tensions in the Korean peninsula, following North Korea this year testing nuclear weapons and threatening to restart its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and conduct tests of missiles capable of striking South Korea, Japan and U.S. military bases in the Pacific. North Korea is also suspected of launching wiper malware attacks against South Korean banks and broadcasters that led to mass hard-drive deletions.

Meanwhile, about 10 days ago North Korea officially declared war on South Korea. North Korea's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC) upped the ante Tuesday with a statement warning all foreign nationals residing in South Korea to prepare to evacuate. "The committee informs all foreign institutions and enterprises and foreigners including tourists in Seoul and all other parts of South Korea that they are requested to take measures for shelter and evacuation in advance for their safety," read the KAPPC statement, reported South Korea's Yonhap News Agency. "We do not wish harm on foreigners in South Korea should there be a war."

North Korea's rulers, however, claim they didn't start the escalation. "The United States and the South Korean puppet warmongers are now watching for a chance to start war against the DPRK after massively introducing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear war hardware into South Korea," they said. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name for North Korea, which is ruled from Pyongyang by a totalitarian regime headed by 30-year old Kim Jong-un.

Pyongyang's warmongering ways led the Anonymous hacktivist collective, working with botmaster friends, to recently launch DDoS attacks against numerous official North Korean websites; leak what it claimed were 15,000 membership records stolen from North Korea's Kim Il Sung Open University website, run from China; and seize and deface North Korea's Twitter and Flickr accounts with images of an Anonymous couple dancing a tango.

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About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz


Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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