Skip to main content

Hacking attack on South Korea traced to China, officials say

By Michael Pearson. K.J. Kwon and Jethro Mullen, CNN
March 21, 2013 -- Updated 0241 GMT (1041 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Attack traced to IP address in China, officials say
  • North Korea has staged similar attacks in the past, expert says
  • Banks, broadcasters targeted; government networks unaffected, Yonhap reports
  • South Korean military steps up its cyberdefense efforts in response

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- The suspected cyberattack that appeared to target South Korean banks and broadcasters Wednesday originated from an IP address in China, South Korea's Communications Committee said in a statement Thursday.

The attack damaged 32,000 computers and servers of media and financial companies, the committee said.

South Korean officials are analyzing the cause and are working to prevent any further damage, the committee said.

The attack infected banks' and broadcasters' computer networks with a malicious program that slowed or shut systems down, officials and the semiofficial Yonhap News Agency said.

Suspicion immediately fell on North Korea, which has recently renewed threats to go to war with the South amid rising tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and missile testing and international efforts to stop them.

South Korea's military stepped up its cyberdefense efforts in response to the widespread outages, which hit nine companies, Yonhap reported, citing the National Police Agency.

Government computer networks did not seem to be affected, Yonhap cited the National Computing and Information Agency as saying.

Experiencing a potential cyberattack
Cybersecurity concerns for China, U.S.

A joint team from government, the military and private industry was responding, a presidential spokeswoman said, according to Yonhap.

A South Korean official close to the investigation told CNN that malicious computer code spread through hacking caused the outages.

How the hackers got in and spread the code remains under investigation, and analysts are examining the malware, the official said.

U.S. flies B-52s over South Korea

Wednesday's attack is consistent with what North Korea has done in the past, said Adam Segal, a cybersecurity expert with the Council on Foreign Relations.

"It's happened before in similar circumstances where there have been tensions on the peninsula," Segal said.

South Korea has accused the North of similar hacking attacks before, including incidents in 2010 and 2012 that also targeted banks and media organizations.

The outages come amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with the North angrily responding to a recent U.N. Security Council vote to impose tougher sanctions on Pyongyang after the country's latest nuclear test last month.

Last week, North Korea invalidated its 60-year-old armistice with the South. It has threatened to attack its neighbor with nuclear weapons and has also threatened the United States.

The armistice agreement, signed in 1953, ended the three-year war between North and South but left the two nations technically in a state of war.

The saber-rattling prompted the United States to deploy B-52 bombers to conduct high-profile flyovers of its South Korean ally and announce that it would deploy new ground-based missile interceptors on its West Coast against the remote possibility that North Korea could strike the United States with long-range weapons.

Under threat, South Koreans mull nuclear weapons

Last week, North Korea complained that it was the victim of "intensive and persistent virus attacks" from the United States and South Korea, according to KCNA, the official North Korean news agency.

Yonhap said Wednesday's outages affected three broadcasters, four banks and two insurance companies.

The three broadcasters -- KBS, MBC and YTN -- reported varying levels of trouble containing the virus. While the networks remained on the air, cable network YTN said editing equipment had been affected and it expected to experience broadcasting problems, Yonhap reported.

Computer networks stopped working entirely at three banks -- Shinhan, Nonghyup and Jeju -- around 2 p.m. Wednesday, Yonhap reported, citing the National Police Agency. Another financial institution, Woori Bank in Seoul, reported it was able to fend off a hacking attack about the same time.

The banks that were affected reported problems with a variety of systems, including Internet banking, ATMs and telecommunication services, and some branches stayed open late because of the slowdown, Yonhap said.

CNN's K.J. Kwon reported from Seoul, Jethro Mullen reported from Hong Kong and Michael Pearson wrote from Atlanta. Judy Kwon and Hilary Whiteman in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 21, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The tragic killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a bitter public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0320 GMT (1120 HKT)
North Korea warns the United States that U.S. "citadels" will be attacked, dwarfing the hacking attack on Sony that led to the cancellation of a comedy film's release.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it's never looked better.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
More than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation, Unicef has warned.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
Boko Haram's latest abductions may meet a weary global reaction, Nigerian journalist Tolu Ogunlesi says.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1034 GMT (1834 HKT)
Drops, smudges, pools of blood are everywhere -- but in the computer room CNN's Nic Robertson reels from the true horror of the Peshawar school attack.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT