March 21, 2013 in Nation/World

South Korea computers hit in major cyberattack

Jung-Yoon Choi Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

Depositors try to use automated teller machines of Shinhan Bank while the bank’s computer networks are paralyzed at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

N. Korea suspect in past

Despite its immense poverty and a shortage of computers, North Korea is believed to be bolstering its cyberwar abilities. It is suspected in five attacks on South Korea in the last three years, including one on a newspaper and another on a bank.

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea was hit by a major cyberattack Wednesday as the computer systems of two major banks, three broadcasters and others simultaneously crashed, raising suspicions that North Korea was to blame.

On some computer screens, images of skulls with glowing red eyes popped up along with cackling laughter.

Although it appears the attack, which began about 2 p.m., was designed more to frighten than to destroy, it highlighted the vulnerability of one of the world’s most wired, tech-dependent countries. Some banking operations were virtually paralyzed during the afternoon.

Newly installed President Park Geun-hye formed a crisis center to investigate the exact cause of the computer crashes.

“We cannot rule out the possibility that this was North Korea’s deed, but it’s hard to judge in advance,” said Defense Ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok.

In an emergency briefing, the Korea Communications Commission suggested that the cyberattack was done through the distribution of malignant code.

North Korea was a prime suspect in part because it had threatened in recent days to retaliate against South Korea for joint military exercises under way with the United States and for Seoul’s support of U.N. sanctions against the North. In addition, North Korea historically has launched its provocations during periods of political transition in South Korea, which inaugurated a new president just last month.

Last week, North Korea accused the U.S. and South Korea of shutting down several of its websites, including KCNA, the national news service.

Wednesday’s attacks took place almost simultaneously. Broadcasting companies’ computers and editing screens went black; Internet banking went down, along with some ATMs.

Broadcasting was not disrupted during the attack.

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