North Korean hackers stole a large amount of classified military documents, including South Korea-U.S. wartime operational plans to wipe out the North Korean leadership, a South Korean ruling party lawmaker said on Wednesday.
Democratic Party representative Rhee Cheol-hee said 235 gigabytes of military documents were taken from the Defense Integrated Data Center in September last year, citing information from unidentified South Korean defense officials.
An investigative team inside the defense ministry announced in May the hack had been carried out by North Korea, but did not disclose what kind of information had been taken.
Pyongyang has denied responsibility in its state media for the cyber attacks, criticizing Seoul for “fabricating” claims about online attacks.
Separately on Wednesday, cyber security firm FireEye said in a statement North Korea-affiliated agents were detected attempting to phish U.S. electric companies through emails sent in mid-September, although those attempts did not lead to a disruption in the power supply.
It did not specify when the attempts had been detected or clarify which companies had been affected.
Rhee, currently a member of the National Assembly’s committee for national defense, said about 80 percent of the hacked data had not yet been identified, but that none of the information was expected to have compromised the South Korean military because it was not top classified intelligence.
Some of the hacked data addressed how to identify movements of members of the North Korean leadership, how to seal off their hiding locations, and attack from the air before eliminating them.
Rhee said the North could not have taken the entire operation plans from the database because they had not been uploaded in full.
These plans had likely not been classified properly but defense ministry officials told Rhee the hacked documents were not of top importance, he said.
“Whatever the North Koreans took, we just need to fix the plans,” Rhee later told Reuters by telephone. “I disclosed this because the military hasn’t been doing that fast enough.”
Rhee said on radio the hack had been made possible by “a simple mistake” after a connector jack linking the military’s intranet to the internet had not been eliminated after maintenance work had been done on the system.
The South Korean Defense Ministry’s official stance is that they cannot confirm anything the lawmaker said about the hacked content due to the sensitivity of the matter.
In Washington, the Pentagon said it was aware of the media reports but would not comment on the potential breach.
“Although I will not comment on intelligence matters or specific incidents related to cyber intrusion, I can assure you that we are confident in the security of our operations plans and our ability to deal with any threat from North Korea,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters.
FireEye said the phishing attack on the electric companies detected was “early-stage reconnaissance” and did not indicate North Korea was about to stage an “imminent, disruptive” cyber attack. The North has been suspected of carrying out similar cyber attacks on South Korean electric utilities, in addition to other government and financial institutions.
Those attempts were likely aimed at creating a means of “deterring potential war or sowing disorder during a time of armed conflict”, FireEye said.
“North Korea linked hackers are among the most prolific nation-state threats, targeting not only the U.S. and South Korea but the global financial system and nations worldwide,” its statement said.
“Their motivations vary from economic enrichment to traditional espionage to sabotage, but all share the hallmark of an ascendant cyber power willing to violate international norms with little regard for potential blowback,” it said.
Other North Korea News: North Korea targeted US power companies
While the world is focused on the nuclear threat from North Korea, Pyongyang is already striking at the US in a different way: targeting its power grid, trying to infiltrate US electric companies and potentially cause havoc, NBC News has learned.
Kim Jong Un has targeted the US power grid with cyber attacks against multiple electric companies trying to break in with emails containing malware, according to a private report by the cyber security firm FireEye obtained exclusively by the news channel.
There is no evidence that the hacking attempts were successful, but FireEye assessed that the targeting of electric utilities could be related to increasing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
FireEye has also documented cyber-attacks against South Korea’s military, its power plants, even aviation — all of them appearing to come from North Korea.
North Korea already attacked Sony three years ago in retaliation for “The Interview,” a Hollywood movie mocking Kim Jong Un.
Now experts warn they are developing the same techniques to attack broad sectors of the US economy.
“One of the things that worries us a great deal is the ability of the North Koreans to strike here in the heartland, particularly at the financial sector,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm.
Intelligence officials told NBC News it was North Korea that pulled off a brazen cyber heist of the Central Bank of Bangladesh, netting Kim Jong-un 81 million dollars (about 68 million euros).
The regime has embedded 6,000 cyber warriors in China, South Korea and other neighboring countries, according to a North Korean defector who spoke to the TV station.
“They (the North Koreans) want very much to have the capability to shut down our power grids, our utility systems, our banking, our air traffic control,” said Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence.
The US industry says North Korea has not penetrated the energy grid but they are on alert for a growing North Korea threat.
– Press TV / NBC
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