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.