North hackers steal IDs to post Cheonan rumors

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North hackers steal IDs to post Cheonan rumors


North Korean defectors yesterday rallied at the Chinese Embassy in Seoul to criticize China’s shielding of the North in the Cheonan case. [YONHAP]

North Korean hackers are using identity information purloined from South Koreans - including their resident registration numbers - to post diatribes on local message boards accusing the government of fabricating the probe results into the sinking of the warship Cheonan.

An intelligence source said yesterday North Korean hackers recently bombarded a message board at a South Korean online community site with posts claiming the government had made up the accusation against Pyongyang.

The source said the hackers have obtained personal information “through various channels” and their servers were likely based in Beijing. In order to write messages on Web portals in South Korea, one must be a registered user, and the 13-digit resident registration numbers are required for membership. The hackers have tracked down those numbers and corresponding names, and used them to open accounts on Web sites, the source said.

Authorities have been trying to crack down on rumors that the results of the probe into the Cheonan sinking were fabricated and used by Seoul to disgrace North Korea. Several “netizens” and left-leaning activists have been detained for questioning for allegedly spreading such rumors.

On May 20, a multinational team of experts concluded North Korea attacked the Cheonan with a torpedo on March 26, killing 46 sailors on board.

The source admitted such practices by North Koreans weren’t new. Another government official said North Korean hackers post messages on South Korean portals using bogus IDs “almost year-round.” They say there’s no evidence the information is used to access bank accounts, although the hackers may be using the personal information for communication purposes with North Korean spies.

The intelligence source said there was no immediate indication of a major cyber terrorism attack on South Korean Web sites.

Last July, North Korea was accused of launching distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks that paralyzed key government and private Web sites in Seoul.

Police in South Korea were busy yesterday trying to track down the origins of more rumors about the Cheonan sinking. Seoul police said yesterday about 300 postcard-sized printouts were distributed in Seongdong and Nowon districts in northeastern Seoul claiming the Cheonan probe was bogus and that the Grand National Party was ready to launch war.

According to the police, the fliers claimed that “War would break out if you choose No. 1 on the ballot,” referring to the slot reserved for GNP candidates. The printout added, “Even a dog would laugh at the fabricated evidence from the Cheonan investigation.” It bore a Photoshopped image of a dog smiling above a photo of a smiling President Lee Myung-bak.

The Seongdong Police said they have obtained security camera video of a man and a woman distributing leaflets at the top of Wangsimni Station in eastern Seoul Monday evening. The police said the man and the woman both appeared to be in their 20s, but they were both wearing baseball caps and investigators were having difficulty identifying them.

Ahn Hyoung-hwan, spokesman of the GNP’s campaign headquarters, argued yesterday that pro-North Korea factions have intervened in the campaign to harm the ruling party.

“These messages spread false warnings of war and frighten our voters,” Ahn said.

“I am convinced there is some anti-national force behind all this which is trying to get North Korea off the hook in the Cheonan sinking,” he said.

Police have said dissemination of malicious and groundless information is punishable by law, and violators could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and fined 50 million won ($41,600). They said 10 individuals have been booked without physical detention for spreading Cheonan-related rumors through cyberspace or text messages.

“If you express your own opinions once or twice, or if you criticize [the Cheonan findings], then it’s O.K.,” one police official said. “But if you repeat that, then we will question you.”

By Yoo Jee-ho, Lee Young-jong []
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