Was It Cyberwar Against South Korea?

Sue Marquette Poremba

South Korea’s banking and television industries were the targets of a cyberattack today. South Korea is pointing the finger at North Korea, according to ABC News, while at the same time, North Korea is pointing fingers at South Korea and the United States for taking down sites in its country.

ABC News explained the attacks:

Officials at KBS, MBC, and YTN broadcasters said their computers were shut down at 2 p.m. and have not been able to reboot. LGU+, the network provider to these companies, said they see three skull drawings on a black screen with the phrase, "hacked by Whois Team," which experts say is a secretive group of hackers.

Shinhan Bank and NongHyup Bank computers were also temporarily shut down. Shinhan Bank, a lender of South Korea's fourth-largest banking group, took a hit on its online banking and automated teller machines, but its servers were back up within two hours.

So was it an act of cyberwar? After all, these two countries don’t like each other very much, and North Korea has been on the offensive lately with other displays of military might. Nor is it the first time that North Korea has been accused of attacking South Korea’s network infrastructure. In 2011, software maker McAfee accused North Korea of attacking South Korean banks. On the other hand, there are also questions on whether this is the work of amateurs. The folks at Kaspersky Lab admitted that they don’t know whether this is an actual act of cyberwar or an isolated incident. It is likely too soon to tell.

Isolated incident or not, the U.S. has to be paying attention. There is already plenty of speculation that the North Koreans are involved in state-sponsored attacks against the U.S.  As Amrit Williams, CTO, Lancope, told me today in an email:

Given previous rhetoric coming from nation-sponsored threats and incidents against government and enterprise targets in the United States, we have entered an era that will be marked by unprecedented attacks on our critical infrastructure. No matter whether the attacks are originating in North Korea, China or other nations states, ultimately the US government needs to be accountable for ensuring that services such as critical infrastructure are available and the US thrives.

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