Cybersecurity alert levels are raised
The Defense Ministry and National Intelligence Service (NIS) raised their cybersecurity alert levels on Monday amid concerns of possible online threats during the presidential transition and the impending move of the presidential office from the Blue House to Yongsan.
The Defense Ministry elevated its cyberspace protection condition (CPCON) by one stage to Level 3, the third highest in the five-tier system, while the NIS upped its own readiness stance to Level 2, the second lowest in the four-tier system.
Officials from the ministry and intelligence service said the changes were made to reflect concerns about Korea’s cybersecurity in light of the international situation in Europe and the Korean Peninsula.
Online spaces have emerged as battlegrounds between Moscow, Kyiv, the West and China amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while the presidential transition in Seoul could give rise to cybersecurity threats as the outgoing administration of President Moon Jae-in passes on sensitive intelligence to the incoming team assembled by President-elected Yoon Suk-yeol.
The ministry’s decision to elevate the CPCON level drew particular attention as it came two days after Yoon and his transition team announced that the presidential office would be moved from the Blue House to the building currently housing the Defense Ministry in Yongsan District, central Seoul.
The raise in the CPCON level – the first since August – will entail closer cooperation between the Defense Ministry, the rest of the government, private sector and armed forces to deter challenges to the country’s cybersecurity and preemptively confirm protection of the country’s online defense assets, according to officials.
The spy agency’s elevation of the cybersecurity alert to the second level also obliges both central and provincial governments, as well as public agencies, to check their cybersecurity readiness postures.
NIS officials said the elevation of the agency’s cybersecurity alert was motivated by concerns that hackers, especially those backed by Pyongyang, could attempt to steal policy documents of the next administration, which be inaugurated on May 10.
Although the Defense Ministry cited the potential of retaliatory cyberattacks against countries that joined sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine – a group that includes Korea – one military official who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo on the condition of anonymity suggested that the cybersecurity alert elevation also reflected the ministry’s own uneasiness with the presidential office move.
“North Korea has been firing missiles since January, while it’s been over a month since the crisis in Ukraine began,” the official said. “It’s difficult to accept these events as the rationale for raising the cybersecurity alert level.”
The official added that the raise in the CPCON level after Yoon announced the move of the presidential office to the Defense Ministry’s premises “has led to misunderstanding within the military” and suggested that intelligence leaks during the move and transition motivated the alert level elevation.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]