News organizations are reporting that about 35 government and commercial Web sites in South Korea and the United States have came under major attack in recent days. Suspected in the coordinated cyber attack is North Korea or its sympathizers. Heon Joo Jung, an Indiana University expert on Korean politics, is available to speak with the news media.
Heon Joo Jung, assistant professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and a native of South Korea, pointed to strong statements issued in late June by North Korea’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland about South Korea’s attempts to join Cyber Storm, a full-scale cybersecurity exercise led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) considered joining the Cyber Storm program this year,” Jung said. “North Korea on June 27 heavily criticized their efforts and (said) that was one of the provocative actions by South Korea.
“South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world,” Jung said, adding that a cyber attack eventually had been expected by intelligence agencies and lawmakers as a result. “The South Korean government and the ruling party have been suspicious, but this kind of massive attack is unprecedented.”
Broadband access to the Internet is available in more than 90 percent of homes in South Korea.
Citing Pyongyang’s recent actions to test nuclear weapons and launch missile tests, the cyber attacks could be a further attempt by North Korea to get the United States’ attention. “North Korea has not been a top priority of the Obama administration so far. They’re trying to be a focus of the Obama foreign policy, because they have been feeling neglected,” he said.
While it is logical to believe reports coming out of the NIS, Jung said it would not be implausible that the Internet attack could have been launched by anti-conservative forces within South Korea to oppose the current administration’s policies, including tightening of Internet restrictions.
“The tension in the cyberspace in South Korea is growing,” he said. “That’s where many of the progressive people are really active. The ruling conservative forces in South Korea tried to pass a law called a ‘cyber terrorism law’ to strengthen censorship and strengthen the monitoring of the Internet, because they think the cyberspace is dominated by the progressive forces.”
Among the targets in the attacks were the ruling party’s official Web site and another site belonging to the country’s most influential conservative newspaper. Tensions between the two sides have been especially heightened since the suicide of former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in late May.
“The key is that regardless of who launched the attack, implications might be very similar in the domestic politics of South Korea,” Jung said. “Already the major conservative newspaper has published editorials that call for strengthening of anti-terrorism efforts in cyberspace that has been regarded as anti-democratic by progressive forces.”
While doing research this summer in South Korea, Jung was able to interview some recent defectors from North Korea a few weeks ago. They told him that few North Koreans were aware of Kim Jong-il’s health condition and the possible anointing of his youngest son as Kim’s successor.
“Having said that, I think that the leadership change (in North Korea) will be very secretive,” Jung said. “If the Obama administration is still waiting for the leadership change and adopting a ‘wait and see’ strategy, I think North Korea may keep initiating provocative actions. There might be further danger to regional security and stability in East Asia as well.”